Nothing sinister about Government’s overdraft account says Finance Minister
THE UNRECONCILED differences that exist in relation to the Government overdraft account which are mentioned in the Director of Audit reports for 2010 – 2015 are mainly due to transactions processed by the Bank but not cleared in the Government’s computerised financial management information system in a timely manner, the Minister of Finance said.
Minister Camillo Gonsalves told SEARCHLIGHT yesterday that this matter, highlighted earlier this week by Leader of the Opposition Dr. Godwin Friday is not new, nor is it restricted to any particular government administration, a similar issue having been raised by the Director of Audit in the 1999 report.
The minister however used the opportunity to again chide the opposition leader for not convening a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee.
“The Honourable Leader of the Opposition’s increasing propensity for grandstanding in his quest for headlines, clicks and eyeballs is unfortunate. If he had genuine queries about any discrepancies he could pose those questions in Parliament. Better yet, he could convene the Public Accounts Committee, as is his right and obligation, to question the relevant officials,” Gonsalves said. He however agreed that discrepancies exist and said the Audit Report was correct to highlight them.
“The explanation, however, is not sinister,” the minister said, adding that they are mainly due to payments, receipts, direct debits or credits processed by the bank but not cleared in SmartStream.
“The transactions were not cleared in our ‘Smart-Stream’ computerised financial management information system on a timely basis due to the timeframe in which daily transaction files from the bank were sent to the Treasury, or human error (lack of understanding of the reconciliation process) resulting in incomplete/incorrect practices. These items are subsequently resolved through other administrative processes,” the Minister said in a written response to SEARCHLIGHT.
“The bank reconciliation system allows upload of daily transactions from the bank, and clears payments and receipts automatically. (Errors from the upload must be dealt with manually
by the Bank Reconciliation Officer.) The system does not provide a monthly bank reconciliation statement and we are currently working on upgrading and modifying the system to provide monthly Reconciliation Statements.
“The hardworking and conscientious staff at the Treasury has succeeded over the years in resolving many transactions, and thus the size of any difference in balances. They continue to work hard to establish the procedures to resolve this legacy book keeping issue,” he said.
While conceding that the issue requires the sustained attention of the professionals at the Treasury, the finance minister said this “long-standing administrative issue simply does not justify the Honourable Leader of the Opposition’s hyperbole and suggestions of corruption, misappropriation or other nefarious activity. I encourage him, respectfully, to live up to his Constitutional duty and convene the Public Accounts Committee if he is truly interested in understanding how the Government spends and accounts for the people’s money.”
On Tuesday, during a virtual town hall meeting on Facebook, the opposition leader told viewers that the government is playing “fast and loose” with the country’s money and between 2010 and 2015, there is a huge discrepancy in the country’s overdraft account, with some EC$95 million unaccounted for.
He said the figures in the overdraft account held by the government at the Bank of St Vincent and the Grenadines (BOSVG) are different to what the Accountant General has been able to provide to the Audit Department.