The Auditor General will appeal the ruling on the investigation into the public accounts and will be given an urgent hearing

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Auditor General Jaiwantie Ramdass.  -
Auditor General Jaiwantie Ramdass. –

AUDITOR General Jaiwantie Ramdass has appealed the court’s refusal to grant her leave to challenge the Finance Ministry and Cabinet over a decision to appoint an investigative team to investigate the recent standoff between her office and the ministry to investigate.

A procedural appeal was filed on June 4 and requested its urgent hearing as her lawyers say the investigation team, led by retired Supreme Court Justice David Harris, is expected to report to the minister.

On June 4, Judge Peter Rajkumar granted an order for the case to be heard on an expedited basis and a hearing scheduled for the first available date.

In support of the application, lawyer Aasha Ramlal said unless a stay was granted or the appeal was not deemed urgent, Ramdass could suffer irreparable prejudice and harm.

In a written ruling on June 3, Judge Westmin James refused Ramdas’ leave to pursue her judicial review claim.

This cleared the way for the Harris-led team to continue the investigation ordered by the Cabinet. Harris, a retired judge, and former audit director David Benjamin were appointed in early May to investigate the circumstances surrounding the $2.6 billion understatement in the auditor general’s report on the 2023 public accounts.

James opined that the investigation did not constitute an unwarranted interference with the independence of the Auditor General’s office.

“He said the Harris team’s investigation and assignment was not disciplinary, but investigative.”

“In this case, the minister has exercised a discretionary power in recommending an investigation.

“It can be agreed between the parties that there was a serious matter of public interest requiring investigation….”

However, Ramdass’ lawyers argued in the appeal that the judge’s ruling was contrary to law and contrary to the weight of the evidence.

The application raised some thirteen objections to the judge’s findings as it sought an order to overturn the rejection of the leave application, while at the same time allowing the Auditor General’s challenge to progress to book.

Her lawyers argue that the investigation is unconstitutional and illegal because neither the Minister of Finance nor the Cabinet has the jurisdiction to investigate the conduct of the Auditor General.

The dispute arose in April after the ministry sought to produce amended public accounts to explain and correct the error.

Ramdass initially refused to accept them, claiming she needed legal advice on whether she could accept them after the statutory filing deadline. Ramdass eventually accepted the data and sent audit personnel to verify it. She then submitted her original annual report. which was based on the original documents, to Parliament.

In subsequent legal correspondence between the parties, Ramdass claimed that her audit team was unable to reconcile the amended data based on the documents she audited. She also claimed that the amended documents appeared to be backdated to the original statutory deadline in January. Ramdass also took issue with the fact that the difference was initially estimated at $3.4 billion.

Imbert has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. His lawyers claimed the reconciliation after the initial estimate showed the difference was actually $2,599,278,188.72, which was attributed to contributions to the value added tax (VAT), individual levy, corporate levy and green fund levy.

They also alleged that checks related to the approximately $780 million difference between the initial and final estimated differences attributed it to tax refund checks to taxpayers issued for fiscal year 2022 and cashed in fiscal year 2023. They attributed the error to a switch by the Central Bank from a manual to an electronic check clearing system.

Lawyers also argued that there was no backdating, noting that the allegation was made because a document relating to the original public accounts was accidentally included in the revised documents. They also argued that Ramdass acted illegally by initially refusing to accept the amended bills. However, they claimed that their client had decided not to take legal action against Ramdass in this regard.

On May 19, the Prime Minister said he was awaiting the outcome of the independent investigation. He also expressed his surprise and disappointment that the case had been turned into an unnecessary bacchanal in the public domain.

The Auditor General’s report has now been submitted to Parliament.

Ramdass is represented by Anand Ramlogan, SC, Jodie Blackstock Kent Samlal, Natasha Bisram and Ramlal.