While noting that Education Minister Myron Walwyn has fed the public with some amount of ‘false’ information, Auditor General Sonia Webster has impliedly described the minister’s recent response to her office’s special report on the Elmore Stoutt High School perimeter wall as an ‘attack on the institutions that support transparency and good governance’.
Webster’s report had cited a number of procedural issues and irregularities with the wall project but Walwyn has since fired back stating that he had ‘no faith’ in the process of the audit and further claimed that the Auditor General’s report is unbalanced, lacking, and inaccurate in some of its assertions.
Walwyn accused the Auditor General of egregiously not consulting with the Public Works Department (PWD) throughout the course of the audit. But in response on Monday, Webster said Walwyn’s claim is false.
“PWD was contacted for this audit,” Webster retorted. “The auditor visited the PWD and conferred with both the current and former directors (together in person). PWD was asked to provide a costing for the wall but the then director declined; indicating that they were not involved in the planning and execution of the Elmore Stoutt Perimeter Wall,” she said.
Webster also refuted Walwyn’s claim that the education ministry satisfied government requirements for payment of contractors who worked on the wall.
Education Ministry sent ‘false information’ to Treasury
She also accused the Walwyn-led ministry of producing ‘false’ information to the government’s treasury department.
The attorney said: “The ministry circumvented the public service payment procedures by sending documents which falsely certified that the work was done and payments were due. Payments were made based on these false certifications which the ministry accompanied with purchase orders and vouchers.”
“The payment process relies on senior government officers to do their part to ensure that government’s resources are protected. The officers of the Treasury cannot be expected to examine the wall to determine which contractors completed the works. They must rely on the integrity of the persons submitting the completion certificates. Accounting Officers who submit false payment requests may be subject to surcharge by the Financial Secretary.”
Webster said the response by Walwyn is “inaccurate and misleading” and “does nothing to convey confidence that steps will be taken to secure improvements in the implementation and management of future public projects.”
Webster further said she stands by the contents in her report on the wall.
“The reports of this office go through several vetting processes to ensure that they are factual and supported. When the institutions that support public transparency and good governance are attacked and undermined at will, and government regulations and parliamentary procedures are deliberately disregarded, we risk becoming a society where the rules that affect democracy and fairness are eroded and rewritten in plain sight and public servants accede to questionable activity for fear of political reprisals. This is a dangerous place to be and cannot be the society that we want the BVI to descend into,” she said.
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