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ACCA representative: Firmer stance needed on transparency, accountability
There is not enough enforcement and penalties for people who break accountability and transparency policies and procedures in T&T.
This comes from Wendell Ramoutar, ACCA international assembly representative for T&T.
In an interview with Business and Money, Ramoutar said that accountability and transparency in procurement practice within an organisation means people acting ethically and following laws and regulations.
“It (accountability and transparency) comes down to a host of things, from the tone at the top of the organisation—a whole appreciation of the rule of law and following best practice.
“It comes down to having very good ethical policies and procedures in place as well as doing things to ensure employees comply. A lot of this (right now) is not complied with (within the private and public sector). He said this is why it was not surprising when the Corruption Perception Index ranked T&T in the 101st position in its 2016 report. (The report covered 176 countries)
“We are not ranked very good, and it has to deal with the holistic view that we operate in. Have you ever heard of people going to prison (for practising bad procurement systems)?
“There are negative news reports, but many times they just go away or remain caught up in the legal system for years, and no one is held accountable in the end and in a public way so people would not be encouraged to behave in a corrupt manner.”
His statement comes on the heels of the appointment of T&T’s first procurement regulator, Moonilal Lalchan.
According to the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property Act, Section 14.1 (b) one of the functions of the regulator is to conduct audits and periodic inspections of public bodies to ensure compliance with the act.
A second function of the regulator is to issue directions to public bodies to ensure compliance with the act.
Going further, Ramoutar said systems and procedures are only as good as the people who they are intended to address, and the people who have to enforce it.
“In our system it comes down to the bodies which have to implement the legislation. They would need to have an appropriate (implementation) department who would need to ensure that the rules are being followed. If there are discrepancies those are reported through the right channels.”
While not specifically referring to a case or company, Ramoutar said there have been many instances where the process of reporting and dealing with wrong doing ends up being “caught up in bureaucracy.”
He said: “The legislation has great intentions when implemented, but the people who have to run the system, that’s where probably attention is required. The legislation must be implemented and monitored.”
Outlining ACCA’s view on accountability and transparency of public funds he said, there must be some “checks and balance” mechanism in place to ensure that public funds are handled properly.
Ramoutar, who has been in the accounting/auditing profession for 16 years, said one of the problems was that there is no appreciation for the value of what accountability and transparency stands for in public procurement, as well as in the handling of public funds.
“Part of the problem is raising awareness about what public accountability means. People talk in general terms without really knowing. The average person on the street does not have a clear understanding of what public accountability means, what it means for every dollar spent.”
Asked whether there was increased attention on modern day methods of accountability and transparency, Ramoutar said in his experience, many entities whether public or private, have established procurement departments which follow both government policy as well as their own tailored procurement policy.
He said when procurement departments are created they must be backed by strong policies in line with international best practices.
He added that setting up a department was not the end game, as transparency and accountability must become a culture within the organisation.
He suggested real procurement policy points to, “when the companies were in fact purchasing stock or collecting money, they were following the spirit of what is written (in the policy) and that really is where it could fall apart.”
“There is good written policy you can find easily available. Some of them are available on companies’ websites, but that is what is in writing, whether or not they follow that in day to day life is another question.”
Ramoutar suggested if more was done when it comes to enforcing fines and jail terms, it would send a clear message that there are consequences for wrongdoers involved in corrupt practices.
“If you are looking at the public entities, the board of directors look after the affairs of the company. It is the board who is responsible for ensuring systems and procedures are put in place to prevent fraud and to ensure that there is compliance with laws and regulations. It comes down to policymakers or boards of directors and setting the right tone for the organisation to run.”
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