GEORGETOWN –– The Contingencies Fund, an account set aside under the laws of Guyana for the Minister of Finance to tap into in case of emergencies, is currently at a critical stage with limited funds available to the current administration, should an urgent situation arise.
Auditor General Deodat Sharma, presented government’s audited report for the year 2014 to the Speaker of the House Dr Barton Scotland on Wednesday last, and while he did not divulge details of the report to the media, this publication understands that the trend of limited funds in the Contingencies Fund continued.
While the advances made by government in 2013 were subsequently approved by the National Assembly and the amounts reimbursed to the Contingencies Fund, the same did not obtain for the more than $615 million in advances made in 2011 and 2012.
The uncleared amount for 2011 was just about $80 million, while the amount for 2012 was just over $536 million.
Those amounts were never approved by the National Assembly, which means that the amounts were never reimbursed to the Contingencies Fund.
Following the prorogation of Parliament, the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C) government continued making advances from the special account meant for emergencies.
These moneys, according to an insider at the Audit Office, were never approved and as such never reimbursed to the account.
To compound the situation, just over $1 billion was withdrawn from the Contingencies Fund last year, meaning the account which amounts to two per cent of the previous year’s budget has not been replenished by in excess of $2 billion.
This means that the Contingencies Fund is out of money accumulated over three years, money that was never paid back to the Contingencies Fund. In the absence of those funds the government would have been hamstrung in the event of any emergency; the money could not be made available for any unforeseen or emergency expenditure.
The Auditor General has over the years lamented the state of affairs as he repeatedly accused the then PPP/C administration of accessing the fund without proper authorization, since many of the expenditure did not meet the specified criteria.
Under the Fiscal Management And Accountability Act (FMA), the minister of finance shall have sole authority for the release of monies from the Contingencies Fund; this authority shall not be delegated.
The minister must, however, be satisfied that an urgent, unavoidable and unforeseen need for expenditure has arisen –– for which no monies have been appropriated; for which the sum appropriated is insufficient; or for which moneys cannot be reallocated or deferred without injury to the public interest.
The total of the amounts permitted to be withdrawn from the Contingencies Fund shall not exceed two per cent of the estimated annual expenditure of the last preceding fiscal year as shown in the annual budget proposal approved by the National Assembly or such greater sum as the National Assembly may approve.
Former auditor general Anand Goolsarran is on record as saying the use of unauthorized expenditure “represents a loss of public property for which appropriate sanctions are provided for under Section 76 of the Fiscal Management And Accountability Act.”
That section of the act reads: “(1) If a loss of public property should occur and, at the time of that loss, a minister or official has caused or contributed to that loss through misconduct or through deliberate or serious disregard of reasonable standard of care, that minister or official shall be personally liable to the government for the amount of loss;
“(2) Where the misconduct or disregard of the person is not the sole cause or the loss referred to in Subsection (1), the person shall be liable to pay only so much of the loss as is just and equitable having regard to the person’s share of the responsibility for the loss.
“(3) If a loss of public property should occur and, at the time of that loss, a minister or an official had nominal custody of that property, that minister or official shall be personally liable to the government for the amount of the loss.”