Following a recent exposé by Kaieteur News over the utilisation of taxpayers’ monies to construct more than a half-million-dollar guard hut at the residence of a permanent secretary (PS), questions were raised over the official’s entitlement to security allowances.
The PS of Education Vibert Welch found himself at the end of the barrel this week when documents were submitted to Kaieteur News showing that he would have given approval for the construction of the hut at his Bent Street, Georgetown residence.
The receipt showed that an amount of $540,470 was spent to construct the guard hut.
Several eyebrows were raised over the size of the structure, and the amount of money that was spent to carry out the project.
The structure is approximately five feet in width, five feet in length and about eight feet high. And judging from its appearance, the structure had recently been painted with the electrical components already in place.
The contract was awarded to Linden Ogle, who was listed among the contractors that submitted proposals for the construction of the hut.
Quizzed on whether permanent secretaries are entitled to security allowances, the PS of the Department of Public Service Reginald Brotherson responded in the affirmative.
He noted that this provision is included in contracts that permanent secretaries sign on to.
Brotherson said that permanent secretaries “work real hard” and are not home often.
“So they need security guards or services to look over because permanent secretaries are mostly out and about,” Brotherson said.
Quizzed on whether there was a conflict of interest when PS Welch signed off, giving approval for the construction of the hut for himself, Brotherson said no.
“The hut is the property of the state. [Although] he will be using it, it belongs to the state” he said.
Brotherson was asked if due-diligence is carried out when a document regarding the disbursements of funds is presented to permanent secretaries.
He explained that as long as the signatures of the relevant technical officers are affixed to the document – granting their approval or blessing – then the PS does not “have to take a calculator” and recheck. Rather, the PS signs off giving his or her approval.
Meanwhile, additional alarming information has made its way to the fore.
Apart from expending $540,470 of taxpayers’ dollars to construct the hut, an additional $20,000 is being paid monthly, for the rental of a portable toilet for the security guard stationed at the PS’ residence.
Rental of the facility – which is about the same size of the guard hut – comes with a fresh water flushing system, a hand wash sink, soap and toilet paper dispenser, and a mirror along with the necessary chemicals.
PS Welch on Tuesday was asked if he thought that there was value for money with the hut.
He had responded: “Is greenheart they use. But I don’t know about prices and materials. The senior works officer; he will know about that. I really don’t get involved in them kinds of things. I’m just the head of budget and the finance people they will deal with that with engineers and the works people.”
After the minister, the PS is the most powerful person in the ministries. He or she is the accounting officer who controls the purse strings.
In the past, several permanent secretaries were fired or transferred for wrongdoing.
With billions of dollars at stake in each ministry, it was not unusual in the past for auditors to red-flag transactions because of overpayments and other deliberate manipulations.