Less than one month after Acting Town Clerk Sharon Harry-Munroe was sent on administrative leave owing to the alleged failure to submit pertinent information for a forensic audit, these documents were finally submitted.Guyana Times was informed that the new acting Town Clerk, Sherry Jerrick, handed over these documents after being provided with a one-week timeframe to do so. This is after the Audit Office of Guyana had written the Commission, ordering that the documents be provided.At Monday’s statutory meeting, the full Council was briefed by Jerrick about the submission to the Audit Office.Since June, Auditor General Deodat Sharma told this publication that the audit was delayed as a result of the Council’s shortcomings to provide requisite data. He insisted that once it was provided, the forensic assessment could be completed.The decision to conduct an audit stemmed from the alarming findings of the Commission of Inquiry, which exposed financial irregularities and mismanagement at the Council. Lone Commissioner, retired Justice Cecil Kennard had called for the Audit Office of Guyana to conduct a forensic audit into the entity’s management even as officers are being disciplined.Earlier this year, there were reports that City Hall had failed to submit a large percentage of the required documents for the Audit Office to continue the inspection.During the CoI hearings, finance records from the Audit Office were presented by the Audit Manager, Dhanraj Persaud, which showed unaccountability for millions of dollars.As he delved into the matter, Persaud showed that Central Government through the Communities Ministry had supplied funds for city restoration projects at a sum of $300 million in 2015 and in 2016, another $200 million was injected into the initiative which totalled to an overall balance of $500 million.However, when checks were made into the pieces of evidence presented for the expenditure of these projects, $70.489 million was unaccounted for.“For 2016, Council did not produce evidence to account for amount totalling $70.489 million,” he said.It was related that the Mayor and City Council (M&CC) has a history of failing to source records. In the course of six years which dates back to the period from 2006 to 2011, there have been no financial records for the disbursement of monies at City Hall. Additionally, for the year 2005, documents were submitted but an audit could not be completed because the files were “damaged”.Persaud said, “A few documents were submitted [in 2005] but those are the ones that were damaged”.The Audit Manager stood before the Commission, stating that his agency inquired about the absence of the report but no explanation was provided. In 2012, records were damaged but from 2013 to 2015, some amount of files was presented for auditing, from which they were able to inspect and extract information.According to the Auditor General’s 2015 Report, there were several “discrepancies” in the way the sums of money allotted to the City Council had been spent during that year.
Ordinary Greeks are fighting back against endemic levels of corruption in their country, with a number of websites now allowing people to report cases of bribery. Kristina Tremonti’s first brush with “fakelaki” came when her grandfather needed urgent treatment at a public hospital in Kalamata, southern Greece. Treatment is supposed to be free. Fakelaki (pronounced “fakk-el-akee”) is a Greek term which means “little envelope”, but has come to describe a wide range of bribery. “He’s actually a war veteran, and he was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer,” she said. “One night he had incessant bleeding, and we had to rush him to hospital. We were faced with absolute negligence. Nobody gave us the time of day – they were very disrespectful and basically ignored my grandfather.” “We sort of picked up the cue that they were expecting a bribe, so as soon as my mother reached into her purse and gave them the amount – which I believe now was 300 euros (£240; $395) – he was submitted to the operating room within an hour.” The experience traumatised her to such an extent that, even though she was studying at university in the US, she became determined to discover how widespread the practice was in Greece. Inspired by similar websites in India and Kenya, Tremonti set up edosafakelaki (meaning “I paid a bribe”), which allows people to anonymously report cases of bribe-giving or taking, or cases where bribes were refused. “In the beginning, people were surprised to see the stories they were previously only hearing at dinner tables or with friends,” she says. “But now I really believe there is a pan-Hellenic attitude of civic duty growing.” In just over a month, 1,000 different reports of bribery appeared on the site, spurred on by chatter on social media sites. “People are frustrated, they’re angry, they feel cheated, they feel abused. They feel they have been threatened by a system that has rendered them powerless in front of it.” Anger has been spurred on by the severity of the financial crisis and the impact it has had on people’s lives. Over a quarter of Greeks are unemployed. Many can no longer afford the relatively small-scale bribes which were previously accepted as a way of life. Horror stories abound on the website – 60 per cent of the entries relate to corruption in the public health system, 15 per cent to bribes paid to obtain driving licences, and 4 per cent to the issuing of building permits. Entries are also categorised according to the region of Greece in which they occurred, and often individual institutions are named, so there are many clues for authorities to follow if they wish. One person wrote: “My father had cancer and had to have an operation on his pancreas. The surgeon asked indirectly for money, and before surgery I put 500 euros on his desk. From his expression I could see it wasn’t enough. My mother insisted that we pay him more. Oh, and there was something else too! My father noticed all the expensive houses across the road from the hospital, and the nurse told him they were the doctors’ houses. “You know what we call them?” The nurse said, ‘Bribe Ville’.” Concern about corruption has risen as the Greek economy worsens. Last month, Transparency International’s annual international survey of public perception of corruption found that the situation in Greece has deteriorated further. Greece has slipped from 80th to 94th place in the last year, making it the most corrupt country in Europe in terms of people’s perceptions. One of the biggest areas of concern is over corruption in the tax system. Tax evasion is known to be endemic in Greece, and is one of the areas the European Commission is pressing the government to improve. One of the latest scandals was over the failure by Greece to investigate the so-called “Lagarde List” of 2,000 Greeks with Swiss bank accounts. However, there are relatively few cases of tax evasion reported on whistleblowing websites like edosafakelaki. Only 3 per cent of entries here relate to tax. The website’s founder believes this is because bribing a tax inspector is only likely to happen when someone is trying to evade tax, making them unlikely to want to tell people about it, even anonymously. It is an obvious drawback of any self-reporting system. Diomidis Spinellis became well known in Greece when he resigned last year as general secretary of information systems at the Greek Ministry of Finance. His job was to modernise data collection for the outdated tax system. He said he was successful at recovering an extra 700m euros in taxes by cross-checking evidence from different databases. However, he resigned in frustration at the government’s unwillingness to reform the system. After stepping down, he spoke publicly about corrupt tax inspectors and how difficult it was to therefore channel tax owed into the state coffers. He has since returned to academia, and is a professor in computer science at the Athens University of Economics and Business. He too has established a website for reporting corruption. “It’s important to share the experiences and create a perception that this is not something acceptable, and it is something we want to fight,” he says. “The sad fact is that corruption seems to be targeting the most vulnerable members of society… people who are less informed, who know less about their access to public services, who have less education, who don’t know the tax code. They get blackmailed by the people who are supposed to serve them, and this is very sad.” However, he is sanguine about what cultural changes corruption reporting websites can achieve. He believes the only way fundamental change can happen is by complete reform of tax collection and public services. “Just reporting incidents is not enough,” he said. “We have evidence, for instance, that accountants are complicit in running most of these schemes, and they’re very reluctant to report them because they don’t want to tarnish their relationship with corrupt tax auditors.” Tremonti believes that a popular groundswell of opinion against bribery can make a big difference to Greece in its present predicament. “Rooting out corruption will allow for social and economic recovery. I cannot stress this enough. “We can make our country more fertile for growth by taking out the weeds which hinder it – and corruption is a weed.” It’s the simplest austerity measure that can be implemented by the people, she says. “Greek people are ready for change, and they feel they can no longer expect a lead for change only from their elected officials. “The Greek people have realised that in order to revive themselves as a society, they have to tap into their most powerful and unexplored asset – which, in this case, is themselves.” *This story was originally published on the BBC’s website. Facebook Twitter: @NeosKosmos Instagram