Ministry uncovers violations in public accounts since 1997

The results of the investigation will be turned over to the authorities to determine if any of the irregularities are criminal. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: The Director General of the Finance Ministry said there were serious violations in most of the public accounts since 1997, noting that many official documents are either missing or have been tampered with.

Alain Bifani, who was speaking at a news conference to brief reporters about the progress of work to uncover the mistakes made in the Finance Ministry since 1997, said the ministry’s staff will complete their work in a few months and send their findings to the concerned parties.

Bifani declined to say that say if these violations over the past 12 years are tantamount to corruption or embezzlement of public funds.

“I don’t make any judgment now because this is up to the authorities who will carefully examine the reports filed by the Finance Ministry’s staff,” he said.

March 8 and most notably the Free Patriotic Movement have spearheaded a campaign against the previous finance ministers since 1997, accusing officials at the time of corruption and embezzlement of public funds, charges denied by March 14 and Future movement.

MP Michael Aoun and his supporters alleged that more than $11 billion were spent illegally from 2005 till 2010, hinting that part of this money has went to certain parties.

“The progress of workload was strenuous during this period, but nevertheless the work was great given the obstacles that staff met during their work. The reproduction of these accounts are still under way and will never stop until the mission is accomplished,’ Bifani told reporters.

He added that the staff has uncovered many shortcomings and deficiencies in the past few years at the ministry.

Citing some examples, Bifani said some of the archives and documents were not audited or calculated in a proper and professional manner.

“Some accounts have been integrated into other accounts although these accounts are not related. The concerned parties at that time did not even bother to audit these accounts. We also discovered that some of the expenses and allocations did not have any attached decrees from the governments at that time,” the director explained.

He hinted that some of the receipts and account books have been tampered with, possibly constituting forgery.

The official noted that some of the accounts were not signed by any official or auditors.

Finance Minister Mohammed Safadi promised to examine all the accounts dating from 1993 but said this work will require lot of time and manpower.

A source told The Daily Star that some former officials at the Finance Ministry have deliberately tampered with public accounts in order to conceal serious financial scandals.

“Some of these accounting mistakes were intentional. How can advisers of finance ministers make such mistakes? These questions should be raised,” the source said.

“It is not our duty to say if these erroneous accounts are deliberate. Our duty is to complete our work and pass all the information to the Lebanese state. We are trying to present proper and transparent accounts from now on,” Bifani said.

All of the public accounts that have been examined by the ministry’s staff will be handed over to the Accounting Bureau for auditing.

Some politicians have called on the government to hire international auditors to audit all public accounts since 1991.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 10, 2012, on page 5.




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