Guyana: A culture of dishonesty
Jun 11, 2016 Editorial, – Kaieteur News
Fraud seems to be commonplace in the society. The forensic audits have uncovered many instances. The argument is that no individual has been fingered so it is difficult to institute charges. However, numerous files have been handed over to the police for action.
In one case, to wit, the file on the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited, NICIL, there is one school of thought that suggests that the statute of limitation has passed. The argument is rooted in the Companies Act and states inter alia, “A prosecution for an offence under this Act or the regulations may be instituted at any time within two years from the time when the subject matter of the prosecution arose.”
There is the argument that the society cannot therefore expect any criminal prosecution for the acts that have been uncovered. One argument is that the subject matter for the prosecution arose when the audits began. Under such conditions, two years have not elapsed. The culprits can be prosecuted.
The wider society has been clamoring for criminal prosecutions in the wake of the disclosures. Things have reached the stage where people are casting blame for the inaction at the government. But the people who are pursuing the matter deny that there is inaction. They say that if any inaction there might be, it is legal inaction.
NICIL has handled the most money and certainly did not pay enough attention to proper documentation. One can only conclude that this failure to properly document expenditures was for good reason. There is the defence that whatever was done was initiated and sanctioned by the Cabinet of Ministers.
However, if an order is given for one to commit an illegal act then the person undertaking the act is guilty. NICIL transferred funds to secret bank accounts which were only found when there was a change in government.
We were aware that people attempted to write cheques to access some of the secret accounts, but the Permanent Secretaries who had just come in objected. They were the saviours of millions of dollars.
It is as if the public coffers were personal bank accounts. But things go even beyond the mere falsification of accounts. Just recently, a common feature emerged. Staff members in the Ministry of Social Security conducted a scheme that yielded thousands of dollars by way of Old Age pension.
The registration process is pretty detailed, yet the staff managed to create pensioners which the audit found were non-existent people. Again, one would expect criminal prosecutions, but this is not happening as yet. The argument is that there have been changes in personnel among the staff, with the result that the perpetrators of the fraud might have long since disappeared.
This surely brings into question the role of the Auditor General’s office. How could such an important office not spot the malpractice?
Millions of dollars ended up in private accounts and there is the belief that the state can do nothing about it. This was common knowledge in the run-up to the May 2015 elections, hence the audits. Now one must wonder whether the expenditure on the audits might have been in vain.
The political opposition is not helping. It has been critical of the audits, which it claims is designed to embarrass the previous government. This administration can be forgiven for allowing some of those now being sought for questioning, to leave the country. These were the clever people. They knew that their schemes would be exposed, so they made alternative arrangements.
One individual who managed to steal some $28 million continues to elude prosecution by remaining outside the country.
Recently, some other countries spoke of actually tracking down stolen money that had been deposited in foreign banks. We wish we could do the same. We also wish that extradition could be a two-way street; that we could demand the return of those who raided the public purse.
Also read address by President Granger where he says that: