A forensic audit conducted of the Guyana Rice Development Board has unearthed information which reveal that officials of that agency utilized funds from it, without approval, to set up a private foreign currency trade.
This was according to Minister of Governance, Raphael Trotman, at a post Cabinet press briefing on Thursday at the Ministry of the Presidency.
The Minister explained that Finance Minister, Winston Jordan submitted to Cabinet, audit reports for the Guyana Power and Light (GPL), the Guyana Energy Agency (GEA) and GRDB. The audits were embarked on by the government upon its assumption of office in 2015.
The Minister said that Cabinet perused the reports and noted that in all these cases, there were issues which warranted further investigation into financial irregularities.
Since this discovery was made, Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan was immediately requested by Cabinet to forward the report of GRDB and the Guyana Energy Agency to the Commissioner of Police for further investigation. The Minister within the Ministry of Finance, Jaipaul Sharma has already delivered to the Commissioner of Police, a report on GRDB.
When asked what some of these irregularities are, the Minister pointed out that there were instances where loans were granted without traceable signs that they were approved by the Board or any promissory notes. Additionally, he noted that there were instances where persons within the agency used money to do trade in foreign currency.
“Over a period of 3-4 years, this agency had, over US$500M passing through it, in the form of the PetroCaribe fund. The Minister who put the report to Cabinet, highlighted what seem to be some glaring anomalies and what could be serious financial irregularities regarding loans without traceable signs that these were approved by the Board or any promissory notes. There were instances where persons within the agency used money to do trade in foreign currency” Trotman told reporters.
He said explained that in this particular case, it is about half a billion US dollars being utilized, and those utilizing it were selling currency at a rate about $2 or $3 dollars above what they were declaring it to be. He said having access to that two or three dollars, and considering the multiplier effect effect over several hundreds of millions, and over a few years, one could only imagine the magnitude.
“So there were instances like those which stood out and which in a sense cried out for attention” he said.
When asked if charges are likely to be brought before those individuals fingered in this operation, Trotman said the Government will start from a presumption of innocence since that is both natural and constitutional law.
However, he was keen to note that, “I believe if at the level of the police force there is the belief that charges can be laid, then I believe that is something that will be expected. I believe at the appropriate stages we are likely to see some action.”
In the case of GRDB, its General Manager during those years, Jagnarine Singh resigned after Government changed in 2015. Meanwhile, Nizam Hassan, who took over the position as General Manager proceeded on leave last year, pending the outcome of a fraud case against him involving another Government agency.
And with some of those individuals mentioned in the report still on the job, Minister Trotman noted that the issue of persons being sent on leave to facilitate an investigation might not arise in every instance.