Region 5 REO, team expelled from PAC meeting over drug purchases

first_imgLack of accountability for drugs warrantied to Region Five proved a contentious issue before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Monday, and in this regard, Chairman Irfaan Ali had Region 5 Executive Officer (REO) Ovid Morrison and team expelled from the PAC meeting.Ali also instructed the Finance Secretary to consider taking appropriate action against the accounting officer, who faced the heat from the PAC after Auditor General Deodat Sharma had complained of being hindered in the execution of his duty by Morrison.Sharma noted that Morrison had written him to state that no one from Region 5 could release information to the AG unless that information goes through him, prompting PAC member Juan Edghill, who was filling in for Ali, to question why Morrison was not cooperating with the AG.Responding, Morrison described his conduct as simply discharging his duty as an accounting officer.PAC Chairman Irfaan AliAli then read the Riot Act to Morrison, quoting from Part VI of the Audit Act of Guyana, which states: “A person commits an offence who, knowingly and without lawful justification or excuse – (a) intentionally obstructs, hinders or resists the Auditor General or an officer authorized by him in the exercise of his power under this Act; (b) intentionally refuses or fails to comply with any lawful requirement of the Auditor General.”“The last time we sent this region away, we specifically asked the Finance Secretary and the Auditor General to do some specific things,” Ali recalled. “We have been informed by the Accountant General that she had the meeting with the REO and team, indicating to them what must be done. It has not been done,” Ali declared.“We have a letter sent by the Auditor General to the REO, dated the 22nd May, asking for the information to be submitted for auditing purposes. So far, the Auditor General has been denied this information! In these circumstances, we have decided to ask the Finance Secretary to take the necessary measures provided under the laws. At this time, the PAC remains dissatisfied with the region,” Ali noted, before ordering the REO to leave.Sums totalling $135 million were transferred by two interdepartmental warrants to the Ministry of Public Health, for the procurement of drugs and medical supplies on behalf of the region.In the case of $60 million, a financial return received indicated that the full amount was expended, but the cost was not stated. In the case of a second warrant, at a cost of $75 million, the administration received a ‘Nil’ financial return.Probed by the Chairman, Morrison noted that $135 million was warranted, but the Region had received $154 million worth in drugs from the Ministry of Public Health.Asked by Edghill why he had received extra, Morrison noted that the Ministry of Public Health would have to respond. He admitted that, at the time, he did not enquire.Edghill demanded that Morrison explain how he accounted for the excess drugs, but Morrison noted that he would have to make further checks with the Ministry of Public Health.“Based on the information the RHO acting suggested, I will now have to take that information and have it confirmed with the Ministry of Public Health,” Morrison informed the PAC.UnacceptableIn fact, Morrison and his team seemed unable to answer many of the PAC’s questions, and this caused Edghill to opine that the region either did not know what it was doing, or was covering up.“That was an unacceptable exchange between you and the Auditor General; and had you allowed the Auditor General access to the information in your region, we probably would not have been spending forty minutes on this matter this morning,” Edghill related.“Perhaps the Auditor General will need to do an investigation: to compare pricing and follow the paper trail to see what went on, because it’s obvious you don’t know or you’re not prepared to tell the PAC what is happening in your region. Or you didn’t even imagine you had an excess,” Edghill declared.When asked, Accountant General Jennifer Chapman stressed that the REO should have done reconciliation with the Materials Management Unit (MMU) of the Public Health Ministry in order to ascertain the variance.In an interview after his expulsion, Morrison expressed disagreement with the Chairman’s decision. While reluctant to discuss his expulsion, he did attempt to clarify reasons for the letter he sent to the AG.“The letter that the Chairman of the PAC referred to was seeking documentation for audit for the year 2017. As a result, I requested that they give me time for those documents to be submitted,” he explained.“I replied to the Auditor General in writing, suggesting to him the amount of information requested and the process that would be applied. June 15 was deadline it would be submitted; it was done. I submitted the list of the drugs, yet questions were asked,” he rebutted.last_img read more