Trinidad and Tobago Officials Clash Over $2.6 Billion Audit Discrepancy

Trinidad and Tobago's Auditor General disputes Finance Minister's investigative team over $2.6 billion revenue discrepancy. Auditor General's lawyers argue team's appointment is unconstitutional, sparking concerns over independence and political interference.

author-image
Aqsa Younas Rana
New Update
Trinidad and Tobago Officials Clash Over $2.6 Billion Audit Discrepancy

Trinidad and Tobago Officials Clash Over $2.6 Billion Audit Discrepancy

A high-stakes dispute has erupted between Trinidad and Tobago's Finance Minister Colm Imbert, Attorney General Reginald Armour, and Auditor General Jaiwantie Ramdass over a $2.6 billion discrepancy in the 2023 audit report. The controversy centers around an understatement of government revenue initially reported as TT $3.4 billion (approximately USD $560 million) and later revised to TT $2.9 billion (approximately USD $480 million).

Why this matters: The integrity of Trinidad and Tobago's financial oversight is at stake, with potential implications for the country's credit rating and investor confidence. A transparent and independent investigation is crucial to restore public trust in the government's financial management and ensure accountability for any wrongdoing.

The Auditor General's office has given Finance Minister Imbert until Wednesday to cancel or recall an investigative team he appointed to look into the revenue understatement. The team, headed by retired High Court judge Justice David Harris, includes David C. Benjamin, a former Audit Director at the Auditor General's Department, and Information Technology specialists from Norway. They are expected to report their findings to the Minister of Finance within two months.

However, attorneys representing the Auditor General, led by former Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, argue that the investigation is unconstitutional. In a pre-action protocol letter sent to Imbert, they contend that the Public Service Commission (PSC) has the sole jurisdiction for appointing and disciplining public officers, and that the Finance Minister has breached section 121 of the Constitution by appointing the investigative team. "This investigation team is mandated to report to the Minister of Finance within two months, and our client is expected to drop whatever she is doing and participate in this investigation without the benefit of independent legal advice and representation," the lawyers stated.

The lawyers further argue that the terms of reference for the investigation are ambiguous and unclear. "Given the political ramifications and hypersensitivity of this matter, the minister's attempt to appoint an independent investigation with a team of independent investigators will not withstand legal scrutiny and judicial review," they added.

The dispute has sparked concerns about the independence of the Auditor General's office and potential political interference in the investigation. It has also raised questions about Trinidad and Tobago's financial management and the accuracy of its financial reporting. Cabinet gave the green light for the investigation last week, with the Ministry of Finance announcing the appointment of the investigative team.

As the Wednesday deadline approaches for Finance Minister Imbert to cancel or recall the investigative team, the high-profile clash between key government officials has put the integrity and transparency of Trinidad and Tobago's financial oversight under intense scrutiny. The outcome of this constitutional standoff could have significant implications for the country's governance and public trust in its institutions.

Key Takeaways

  • Trinidad and Tobago's Finance Minister, Attorney General, and Auditor General are in a dispute over a $2.6 billion discrepancy in the 2023 audit report.
  • The Auditor General's office wants the Finance Minister to cancel an investigative team he appointed to probe the revenue understatement.
  • The team's appointment is deemed unconstitutional by the Auditor General's lawyers, citing breach of the Constitution's section 121.
  • The dispute raises concerns about the independence of the Auditor General's office and potential political interference.
  • The outcome could impact Trinidad and Tobago's credit rating, investor confidence, and public trust in its institutions.