Last updated on Monday, 11 January 2021, 15:31 by Denis Chabrol
Top Guyana Defense Force (GDF) officials were grilled on Monday over sweeping anomalies in vehicle use and high maintenance costs, including ALL $ 8 million spent on repairing one vehicle each month during 2016.
“Extra time would definitely give us the opportunity to look at each document and even interact a bit more with the State auditors who prepared the audit and that might put us in a better position to provide more clarity and concerns to these questions, ”he said. Commander Vernon Burnett
Opposition and government members of the National Assembly’s Public Accounts (PAC) lamented the inability of the GDF team to provide accurate answers to questions dating back to the 2016 Auditor General’s Report. PAC Chairman David Patterson highlighted the the GDF should have been more prepared to respond to queries at the committee meeting because the GDF was originally scheduled to appear in 2018. “This is unacceptable,” Mr Patterson.
Those questions include whether any of the five contractors, who overpaid ALL $ 3.3 million were still working for the army given a flawed system. “This was a failure on the part of staff. I’m happy that we’ve been able to recover the amount. I want to assure the committee that our SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) are now in line with the financial and store regulations and we hope that this will never happen again. We also have better trained staff working in finance and other departments who manage these transactions, ”Mr Burnett.
Mr Burnett could not immediately say what disciplinary action had been taken against any wrongful GDF staff member.
Due to the current failure of the GDF team to respond adequately and to choose to submit solutions in seven days, Mr Patterson successfully recommended that accounting officers be given more time to prepare and return at the next PAC meeting. That date has not been set.
Mr Burnett stated that Captain Mc Allister was no longer a member of the GDF and could not be contacted. PAC members repeatedly reminded Mr Burnett of his team that former Lieutenant Commander Paul Arthur was an accounting officer in 2016. Mr Arthur, for his part, remained silent throughout the meeting except when he spoke , expressed concern about providing incorrect information to the LLP. “Sir, if I dare to reply now it may not be the case and I would be breaking these policies or the Constitution,” he said.
Governance Minister Gail Teixeira acknowledged that there is always a problem when there is a change in the garrison but said in the interests of the GDF’s reputation, Mr Arthur and his successor should have co-operated before attending the PAC meeting. “Unless files have disappeared, documents have disappeared which is obviously a different issue than audit,” he said.
Although the GDF team could not provide information on the brand and type of vehicle that spent ALL $ 8.5 million on repairs, the PAC Chairman told the meeting that it was a Bedford 4 ton tipper truck, DFB license number 1530, assigned to the 4th Engineering Battalion . In one case, it cost ALL to repair that vehicle $ 231 million. “This was a major repair done – engine replacement,” he said. Auditor General Deodat Sharma said the truck had been seen but there were no historical records about that vehicle and he would have to check his working papers.
Commander Burnett acknowledged that there was a “bottleneck” in providing logbooks for all 232 GDF-owned vehicles. Of the 32 that were not provided with logbooks, he said five had been engaged in “sensitive” operations such as “intelligence” support. He explained that many of the records of those vehicles not provided for scrutiny by the Auditor General’s Office were linked to the Military Criminal Intelligence Department, Chief of Staff and G2 Branch. “These vehicles are usually involved in highly sensitive operations,” he said.
After an official from the Office of the Auditor General at an PAC meeting advised that vehicle logs assigned to government ministers and constitutional office-holders are exempt from auditing by auditors, CAP government member Gail Teixeira said if the GDF wants certain vehicles to be exempt from the regulations, an application would have to be taken to the Defense Board which would eventually be discussed by Cabinet and then shipped to the National Assembly for approval.
Commander Burnett stated that the logs of many other vehicles had not been checked because they had been deployed to border locations and others were carried out in private vetting “vetting” mechanics. Government PAC member Juan Edghill stressed the need for all vehicles to be inspected to determine fuel consumption, repairs, tires and other spare parts.
The GDF official said since the 2016 audit, the army established and updated in 2018-2019 a filing system for all its vehicles through a fleet management and tracking system. He said that the GDF had recently resumed its internal maintenance of vehicles.
Overall, the GDF spent ALL $ 374 million on vehicle maintenance in 2016.
On another issue, the GDF team could not say why the contractor had been paid 30 per cent of the contract amount awarded by the National Tender Procurement and Administration Board, even though the fixed amount was 15 per cent as a moving fee. As such, Mr Edghill called the contractor a “loan”. Commander Burnett said that “some of these questions concern us.”