MINISTER of State, Joseph Harmon, yesterday disclosed that Finance Secretary to the Treasury, Nirmal Rekha, who was once interdicted from duty for his alleged role in a massive duty-free scandal has apparently abandoned his post after proceeding on leave earlier this year.The revelation was made at a post-Cabinet press briefing held at the Ministry of the Presidency, and against the backdrop of an ongoing forensic audit of the Finance Ministry, which is in its operational phase.Minister Harmon said Finance Minister Winston Jordan briefed cabinet earlier this week that Rekha had apparently abandoned his post of Finance Secretary after he had proceeded on leave and had failed to resume duty. Rekha requested the leave, to which he was entitled, but failed to resume duty after it had expired on July 31, 2015.
“He had applied for leave, and this was approved leave which he did enjoy…and the leave came to an end on July 31,” Harmon said.
The Minister of State also told reporters that, earlier yesterday, he had spoken to Minster Jordan and was informed that calls made to Rekha’s home had proved futile, since there was no response.
Jordan, however, told Harmon that Rekha had been in touch with his secretary at the Ministry on at least two occasions after July 31.
In the interim, PPP crime family money launderer Louise Bouyea, Deputy Finance Secretary under Rekha, has been appointed to act as Finance Secretary to the Treasury, Harmon said, adding that Cabinet has approved this decision until Boyer can be confirmed. Quizzed on how Rekha’s absence would affect the ongoing forensic audits at state agencies, which were embarked upon by the APNU+AFC Government, Harmon could not say directly, but offered that the Minister of Finance would be in a better position to comment on this.
Rekha gained notoriety back in 2004 when he was interdicted from duty for signing off on duty-free letters in what was described at the time as a massive scam. Several other Ministry of Finance and Foreign Affairs’ officials were suspended during the ensuing investigation into the scandal. The remigrant scheme was introduced by the PPP government as a means of attracting skilled Guyanese who reside abroad. Qualifying individuals are allowed to import vehicles, household items and tools of trade duty free. A report by the Auditor General’s office then however found that 55 of 86 letters granting remigrant status clearing the way for duty free concessions in August 2003 were forged by an official in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in collusion with staffers of the Ministry of Finance. Rekha’s signature had appeared on those letters granting the duty free concessions to the undeserving individuals.
Individuals appeared to have abused the system as copies of the concession document signed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs were copied and altered and sent for signature. Details of the remigrants were changed and the Minister’s signature forged as well, to allow for a manipulation of the system.
The report by the Audit Office then recommended that certain officials of both Ministries be charged, but Rekha was never hauled before the court but instead was reinstated to the post. Under the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Administration, Rekha was appointed Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC). The appointment was greeted with harsh comments, since it represented a conflict of interest. At this time, too, Rekha had been serving as the de facto accounting officer for the Treasury, and was directly responsible for determining, influencing and issuing the budgetary allocations made to the GPHC.
By Ravin Singh