Permanent Secretary answers financial questions in fraud trial
Former Permanent Secretary of Works and Engineering Robert Horton fielded questions in court yesterday over the Financial Instructions rules governing public money.
The questions came from Kyril Burrows, a former Buildings Manager at the Ministry who is accused, along with his wife Delcina Bean-Burrows, of defrauding Government of more than $553,000.
Mr Burrows is alleged by prosecutors to have illegally used Government funds to renovate the house they shared in Turkey Hill, St George’s.
He is also accused of directing Government funds to his wife’s company Ren Tech under the false premise it would carry out construction work at schools in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence.
And, prosecutors at the Supreme Court say, he spent Government cash on televisions that were later discovered in the couple’s home.
When he gave evidence for the Crown on Thursday, Mr Horton told the jury he was concerned at the way in which Mr Burrows used Government purchase orders to obtain a television from an electronics store in 2008. He said Mr Burrows quit his job when he questioned him about his actions.
Mr Horton, who is now Permanent Secretary of the Estates Ministry, explained that the Permanent Secretary of a Ministry is also the accounting officer who is responsible for its money.
Mr and Mrs Burrows do not have lawyers representing them.
Yesterday morning, Mr Burrows cross-examined Mr Horton, asking him if he had been questioned by the police investigating the case. Mr Horton confirmed he had been along with other Ministry representatives including Thomasina Hassell, the Chief Financial Controller. Mr Burrows then questioned him about his role as chief accounting officer for the Ministry.
Having put various documents and accounting terminology to the Permanent Secretary, Mr Burrows asked: “As you have expressed in court your lack of knowledge of some of the financial terms, who would you expect the police would ask these questions of?”
Mr Horton clarified he did not know about “some of those financial terms,” before replying that the Ministry of Works and Engineering is one of the largest in the Government and handles many projects.
“It has a dedicated team of accountants who answer these matters and are equipped to answer the questions you have,” he added.
“I am not a trained accountant at all, and hence my lack of knowledge of those terms, but I do rely upon the accounting knowledge of those accountants as with the architects or engineers.”
In answer to a further question from Mr Burrows, Mr Horton confirmed he is aware that Financial Instructions are fundamental to the Crown’s case.
Mr Burrows then asked what the policy is when a breach of Financial Instructions is discovered.
Mr Horton replied that it is incumbent upon the officer who learns of the breach to bring it to the attention of their supervisor, and by extension, the Permanent Secretary. He added that the Permanent Secretary then alerts the Accountant General. He agreed with Mr Burrows’ suggestion that the Accountant General has a role similar to that of the Police Commissioner and Governor in that respect.
Mr Burrows pointed out that Mr Horton described Financial Instructions in evidence on Thursday as the bare minimum level of accountability required.
Mr Horton responded: “I have an expectation, and my department heads would know, that where there is a conflict of interest it is brought to my attention also; which is arguably a higher expectation than that set out in Financial Instructions.”
Mr Burrows inquired if Mr Horton felt that he, as Permanent Secretary, had a higher level of accountability than his staff when it came to Financial Instructions. Mr Horton replied: “With regards to adherence to Financial Instructions, yes.”
Mr Burrows, 48, and Mrs Bean-Burrows, 49, have pleaded not guilty to 35 charges between January 2005 and July 2008, encompassing allegations of cheating, obtaining money transfers by deception, obtaining property by deception, money laundering and false accounting.
The case continues.