Even as Regional Executive Officer (REO) of Region Two (Pomeroon-Supenaam), Rupert Hopkinson dodged questions before the House Public Accounts Committee (PAC) about whether capital projects were being financed from funds allocated for current expenditure, the Regional Engineer, Latchmin Singh testified that cash from the wrong source was being spent based on the REO’s instruction.
PAC Chairman, Irfan Ali asked Guyana’s Auditor General, Deodat Sharma to “immediately dispatch a team and examine the records” and compile a report for submission to the Committee.
Appearing before the bi-partisan PAC on Monday, Hopkinson tried his best not to say categorically that in 2017 monies were spent from those allocated for current account on capital projects when he was grilled by Committee Chairman Ali.
Asked by Ali whether corrective measures were taken to avoid that recurrence in 2017, Hopkinson said “We have corrected that Mr. Chairman, we are making sure that doesn’t happen”. Pressed by the PAC Chairman on whether that would not be the case, Hopkinson said, “I believe you are not going to see any current to capital but I’m not so sure”.
Ali reacted, saying “this is where I have a difficulty with you” and that it was the “job of the accounting officer is to correct it and to assure the committee that it would not reoccur”. The PAC Chairman, when asked whether he had approved any expenditure from capital funds instead of allocations for current expenditure, Hopkinson replied, “Not that I could recall, Mr. Chairman”.
On the question of what should the PAC do if the Auditor General finds that there was a recurrence in 2017, the Region Two Chairman suggested that “the PAC should examine the particular case because sometimes there are emergencies; I’m not saying that that happened”. At that juncture, the PAC Chairman reminded the REO that funds are budgeted for emergencies and his justification was weak.
“You are the accounting officer and you ought to be sure about what you sign and you don’t sign and after reading the Auditor General’s report you ought to know that you are not supposed to finance capital expenditure from current resources,” Ali added.
Engineer Singh, when asked by the PAC Chairman whether the situation has been corrected, he said “no the situation has not been corrected” and the REO continues to instruct that capital funds be spent for current resources.
Ali: On what authority?
Singh: On the REO’s instructions, Mr. Chairman.
Ali: So REO you just said that this thing did not reoccur. Right in this same room, I am asking the Engineer and he is
saying upon your instruction this practice continued but the Engineer, you are also aware of the policy. Are you
participating in an illegal instruction?
Singh: The Works Department just follows the instructions of the Regional Executive Officer, Mr. Chairman
The PAC Chairman, who is an opposition People’s Progressive Party Civic parliamentarian, described the situation as a “grave problem” in which the REO is “blatantly breaching everything”.
Ali became visibly upset with Hopkinson, when even after the Engineer’s explanation, he said he was not sure and they would “have to go back and check”.
The Region Two Regional Democratic Council is controlled by the opposition People’s Progressive Party Civic. All REOs, including Hopkinson, are appointed by Central Government which is currently controlled by the coalition of A Partnership for National Unity+ Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC).