OPINION: GRA, IHS Markit, Exxon, and Guyana: what is really going on with this audit?

Last Updated on Wednesday, 5 April 2023, 11:43 by Denis Chabrol

By GHK Lall

Guyana has serious money troubles.  As I discern matters, there are money troubles with Exxon (terms and conditions of the contract); money troubles with the PPP Government (borrowing and spending); and now money troubles with the British-based IHS Markit (IHSM) audit people (doing, responding, and moving along).  All of this is evident in the back and forth over Exxon’s precontract costs from 1999 to 2017 of US$1.67 billion.  The Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) finds itself trapped in the middle over who did what, who is stonewalling, who is concealing, who could say where things stand, and where to go from there with this IHSM audit.

I have said this before, but it is necessary to do so again: with Mr. Godfrey Statia at the head of the GRA, Guyanese are assured, have the best chance, of getting justice on what they are paying for, and whatever the source from which their obligations is collected.  It may not be the 100% result expected, but Mr. Statia will ensure that 100% is given so that Guyana benefits as much as it should.

Now, he and his GRA are caught between a government that points to both, and an expert, IHSM audit team imported from the UK.  In the last analysis, Guyana should not have presented that so-called Final Audit Report to Exxon.  Not with all the problems, concerns, and issues that the GRA itself had with IHSM’s Initial Report, and the disagreements with IHSM over the Interim Audit Report.  I detected that the contracted IHSM audit team was dragging its feet for some inexplicable reason in relation to the Interim Audit report.  I say inexplicably because our own audit partner was balking, failing, (maybe) objecting to delivering the second stage report before jumping to the Final Audit Report.  What is going on here (expletives deleted)?  What about the GRA’s 31 pages of issues held up?  How was that reconciled, incorporated?  What huge concerns could still be in that Final Report, given that much could be going abegging in that body of work, and preferred not to be identified and documented?

This brings the chills.  What would have been the initial result of that audit, if the GRA was not wise enough-perhaps, insistent enough-to have our own Guyanese people dogging the footsteps of the IHSM team?  I shudder at the thought of ‘No exceptions.’  Or, for the benefit of Guyanese unfamiliar with these things: nothing out of the ordinary.  Just accept as Exxon submitted, and sign off on full payment.  In view of the reluctance of IHSM to work along sensibly and as swiftly as circumstances allow, then only the worst is conceived.

Worse still, the GRA in its public statement identified five areas that it termed “major deficiencies”, and from which I extract the following three:

  1. Inaccuracies as it relates to analysing and reviewing the financials
  2. General inconsistencies and deficiencies
  3. Failure to adopt suggestions and recommendations, as well as, address concerns emanating from Government of Guyana Representatives

I interpret the first two as generalized weakness, sloppiness, and murkiness.  Though euphemisms, each one of those is loaded in terms of the possible multimillion dollar significances for Guyana.  The last “major deficiency” from above put before IHSM speaks volumes.  In my words, dig more, cover more, document more, and report more.  In aggregate, I sense more than process and personnel loggerheads between Guyana’s auditors and those of the IHSM group.  I detect that Guyana waa probably shortchanged, and that could mean millions, likely hundreds upon hundreds more than that US$200 million plus of questionable items.  That second position of “general…deficiencies” covers lots of ground, regarding what could be ignored, shied away from, and left out.  In other words, if the trail is not followed to its nest, then only part of the story is presented.

Again, the question must be asked: what is really going on here with IHSM?  Could there be that other considerations beside the expected professionalism and associated integrity are up in the air?  Look, the GRA cannot come out into the open and say this in most of these words, but I can.  There is absolutely no interest in scorching IHSM; there is interest, though, in putting it under the microscope, so that Guyanese see what they are getting, and if full effort and value are being given.  Examine what is at stake.

The GRA has among its objectives, “arresting unsound financial practices on the part of the contractor” and “improving government controls.”  The first takes on a fearsome appearance, considering IHSM’s postures and practices.  The fact that the GRA had cause to push back to IHSM twice with 31 (yes, 31) pages of issues for inclusion in a revised Draft Audit Report should give Guyanese a ray of light as to what could be going on here.

Separately, it is standard practice to give the auditee time with an Interim Audit Report, and 60 days seems more than reasonable to me.  To bypass that standard, and jump to the Final Audit Report reeks of what could be detrimental to Guyana’s interests.  What about the impact of those 31 pages of issues that are hanging?  How could this so-called “Final” be accepted as the Final Audit Report, with so many troubling elements present?

Failure in all these areas, and those I left untouched, raises major bones of contention, and contributes to the hiccups and holdups.  I would contend that it is more than hiccups, and something on the order of audit convulsions, when consideration is given to IHSM’s most peculiar behavior.  What else could be in motion, in play, here with this audit?