Auditor General's appeal set for June 17

Auditor General Jaiwantie Ramdass. - File photo
Auditor General Jaiwantie Ramdass. - File photo

The Cabinet-appointed investigation surrounding the understatement of revenue in the Auditor General’s Report for the financial year 2023 and rela­ted matters will go on without the input of Auditor General Jaiwantie Ramdass for now.

The probe, led by retured judge David Harrris, can continue its investigations into the other aspects surrounding the $2.6 billion understatement in the Auditor General report on the 2023 public accounts that does not involve Ramdass.

This comes after an undertaking was given by the State at a hearing in the Court of Appeal on June 7.

On June 7, attorneys for the State agreed to an undertaking that the Harris-led would not submit its report – originally due July 7 – to Finance Minister Colm Imbert.

Last week, Justice of Appeal Peter Rajkumar deemed Ramdass's appeal fit for urgent hearing.

The appeal of Justice Westmin James’s refusal to grant Ramdass leave to challenge the legality of the probe will be heard on June 17.

In an affidavit filed on June 6, in support of an injunction, Ramdass said she received a letter from chairman Harris soliciting her participation in the probe.

Harris wrote, “I write to you in my capacity as chairman of the said committee. The remit of the committee is a fact-finding assignment only and does not include the objective of determining civil or criminal liability nor, culpability of any person(s) within the Public Service or any other disciplinary regime."

”The committee is desirous of receiving the contribution from the Auditor General and from any officer(s) within the Auditor General’s Department who may be identified by the Auditor General, to assist in providing the committee with their respective professional, experienced and expert responses to the questions to be raised by the committee during a meeting to be fixed.

“ It might be that the Auditor General may determine that different persons respond to different aspects of the role and interactions with the various Government departments relevant to the committee’s remit, that were performed by the Auditor General’s Department in the Audit for the Financial Year 2023.

“This is entirely a matter for the Auditor General.”

Ramdass was asked to attend a meeting on June 12 either at her office or at the Finance Ministry.

In a written ruling on June 3, Justice Westmin James refused Ramdass leave to pursue her judicial review claim.

This cleared the way for the Harris-led team to continue its Cabinet-ordered probe. Harris and former audit director David Benjamin were appointed in early May.

James held the investigation did not amount to an unjustified interference with the independence of the Auditor General’s office.

“He said the probe and the remit of the Harris team were not disciplinary but investigative.”

“In this case, the minister used a discretionary power for the purposes of the recommending an investigation.

“It can be agreed between the parties that there was a serious matter of public importance that required investigation…”

However, Ramdass’s attorneys argued in the appeal application that the judge’s ruling was contrary to law and against the weight of the evidence.

The application raised some 13 objections to the judge’s findings as it sought an order reversing the dismissal of the leave application while also granting leave for the Auditor General’s challenge to progress.

Her lawyers are contending the investigation is is unconstitutional and illegal because neither the Finance Minister nor the Cabinet has the jurisdiction to probe the conduct of the Auditor General.

The dispute arose in April after the ministry sought to deliver amended public accounts to explain and rectify the error.

Ramdass initially refused receipt, as she claimed she needed legal advice on whether she could accept them after the statutory deadline for submission. Ramdass eventually accepted the records and dispatched audit staff to verify them. She then submitted her original annual report, which was based on the original records, to Parliament.

Ramdass is represented by Anand Ramlogan, SC, Jodie Blackstock Kent Samlal, Natasha Bisram and Ramlal.

The State was represented by Douglas Mendes, SC, Simon De La Bastide, Jerome Rajcoomar, Sonnel David-Longe and Jo-Anne Julien .

Terms of Reference of the Harris-led committee are as follows:

a. What circumstances led to the Understatement of Revenue in the public accounts for the financial year 2023 and what should be done to avoid a recurrence of same;

b. The efficacy of the new Electronic Cheque Clearing System introduced by the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago in February 2023;

c. The efforts made by the officials at the Ministry of Finance and its various Divisions to correct the Understatement of Revenue, and to advise the Auditor General of the Understatement and provide her with an explanation, clarification and further information on same; (emphasis added)

d. What was the response of the Auditor General to the efforts of the public officials described at (c) above and what action was taken by the Auditor General in relation to the Understatement of Revenue in the audit of the Public Accounts for financial year 2023; (emphasis added)

e. What are the facts in relation to the allegations and statements made by the Auditor General in her Report on the Public Accounts of Trinidad and Tobago for the Financial Year 2023, including the Addendum and Appendices, with specific reference to the Understatement of Revenue in the public accounts for the financial year 2023; (emphasis added)

f. Any other related matters; and

g. Findings and Recommendations going forward.


"Auditor General’s appeal set for June 17"

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