Pre-action protocol letter sent to Imbert and AG as Auditor General wants issues cleared

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Pre-action protocol letter sent to Imbert and AG as Auditor General wants issues cleared

Auditor General Jaiwantie Ramdass has called on Finance Minister Colm Imbert and Attorney General Reginald Armour to retract statements made in Parliament, clear the air and set the public record straight.

She issued the plea via a pre-action protocol letter, over alleged erroneous statements made in Parliament about her audited report on the nation’s finances.

A Government motion to extend the time to present information to the Auditor General was passed in Parliament last Friday, after Minister Imbert said Ramdass allegedly refused to accept information seeking to correct a $2.6 billion understatement of T&T’s revenue for 2023.

Imbert said the required report from the Treasury was submitted to the Auditor General in January 2024. But the root cause for the motion was the detection by public servants of a significant variance – the revenue for 2023 was understated by $2.6 billion.

Imbert said public servants came to him in embarrassment, as they felt it would be improper for revenue to be understated by $2.6 billion.

He said legal advice sought advised that the time had not passed for submission of data indicating to the Auditor General that there were errors in the figures. After failed bids to communicate with the Auditor General and the pre-action protocol letter to her, Imbert said her April 15 reply stated that the Finance Ministry was free to submit a letter by noon on April 16 recalling the public accounts submitted in January, confirming the declaration previously provided was inaccurate and providing the revised public accounts.

Ramdass, who is represented by Anand Ramlogan SC, claims in the pre-action protocol letter that was sent via email yesterday, that Government’s approach was fundamentally flawed.

Ramlogan has since called on Minister Imbert to retract statements and clear the air instead of attacking his client in Parliament.

‘Unethical attempt to backdate the original national accounts’

Ramdass’ pre-action protocol letter, which was obtained by GML, explained that two months after the Ministry of Finance (MoF) submitted the public accounts on January 31, 2024, she was advised that they had made a massive error whereby the ministry was now claiming that the Government’s revenue was understated by over $3 billion—to be exact $3,379,777,908.

The Auditor General indicated that the ministry wanted to amend the national accounts to reflect this higher revenue figure.

However, she said the ministry admitted that whilst it could account for some of this money, the sum of $780,499,791.27 could not be accounted for.

Ramdass said she received the amended national account but noted that there was no amendment to reflect the increase in the revenue figure.

“The ministry had simply replaced the old revenue figure with the new increased amount. She was therefore faced with two sets of conflicting public accounts which were submitted on two different dates (the original accounts were submitted on January 31, 2024, whilst the amended accounts with the higher revenue figure were submitted on April 15, 2024,” the Auditor General explained.

She expressed concern that the ministry had also backdated the amended account.

This, she contended, was unethical: “It is clear from this that the MoF simply backdated the original accounts and replaced the old revenue figure with the new one. It did so without showing any amendment to the national accounts. This would give the impression that the original accounts that were submitted within the statutory deadline had all along carried the higher revenue figure where this is not factually correct. Our client quite properly viewed this as an unethical attempt to backdate the original national accounts which were submitted to her to cover what was a financial mistake of unprecedented magnitude with grave financial economic and political implications.”

Ramdass took Imbert to task by explaining that it was completely untrue to suggest that she did not audit the increased revenue figure.

She indicated that she did, in fact, conduct a special audit, however, the ministry could not produce any supporting documentation to substantiate and verify the alleged $3 billion increase in revenue.

The pre-action letter went on to state Ramdass therefore included a disclaimer stating “Because of the significance of the matters described in the Basis for Disclaimer of Opinion section of my Report, I have not been able to obtain sufficient appropriate audit evidence to provide a basis for an audit opinion on these Public Accounts…Audit procedures were hindered as supporting documents were not provided to verify payments. As a consequence, known expenditure of $1 billion could not be verified.”

Ramlogan, SC, contended that his client had completed and submitted her audit report and did not need or request any extension of time.

“As such, it was blatantly false for Imbert and Armour to tell the Parliament that Ramdass had refused to audit the amended statement when in truth it was simply a case of the Government not being able to verify the alleged three billion-dollar increase in revenue,” he added.