APPROXIMATELY $14M in vouchers are still to be accounted for by the Ministry of Indigenous People’s Affairs while millions of dollars in equipment were procured without any evidence that contractual agreements had been reached.
These issues were among a plethora of systemic and accountability problems raised when the ministry’s officials led by the Permanent Secretary, Alfred King appeared before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Monday for the third time in one month.
Though many of the issues stemmed from the purchase of machinery and equipment dating back to 2015, King and his team, which included the former Permanent Secretary, Vibert Welch and Deputy Permanent Secretary Samantha Fedeé, seemed ill-prepared to answer some of the questions.
Referencing to a report compiled by the Office of the Auditor General for the period 2015, the PAC noted that a sum of $287.4M was budgeted for Amerindian Development in the areas of agriculture, education, culture and community development.However, as at December 31, 2015, amounts totalling $270.818M were expended. Payment vouchers totalling $204.244M were presented leaving expenditure totalling $66.574M at the time still to be verified.
However, King told the PAC on Monday that to date 48 of the vouchers totalling $52.8M were located, and efforts are still being made to find the additional 15 vouchers valued at $14M. The vouchers were located with assistance from the Finance Ministry. King, who was recently appointed to the Indigenous People’s Affairs Ministry as Permanent Secretary, told the Committee that “progressively” more vouchers are being located.
Ali, however, bemoaned the fact that it took the Ministry more than a year to locate all the vouchers. The Permanent Secretary, in response, admitted that no serious effort was taken to track the vouchers in the past. At the time, Welch was the accounting officer with the support of Fedeé.
Cognizant of the systemic problem, King told the PAC that systems are now being put in place to ensure that all vouchers are registered. “The presentation of vouchers at the end of clearing should be properly registered by our Ministry, the Ministry of Indigenous People’s Affairs, and with a schedule, handed over and signed for at the Ministry of Finance. There was a delay when we checked, up to when the auditors were verifying, most of these, $66M worth of vouchers were not readily prepared and submitted to the Ministry of Finance, so you had that delay in transition from the Ministry to the Ministry of Finance,” he explained. He emphasised that systems are being put in place to ensure that all vouchers are correctly registered and handed over to the Finance Ministry in a timely manner.
Turning the Committee’s attention to another section of the auditor’s report, Ali questioned whether the tractors and trailers and the six disc ploughs and harrows were delivered to the identified Amerindian villages. The equipment and machineries were valued at $52.080M.
Although the Ministry had obtained approval from the National Procurement and Tender Administration for the purchase of the machineries, King admitted that it took the ministry approximately two years to deliver the tractors to the villages of Yarakita, Sebai and Karrau. They were delivered on June 2, 2017.
When pressed for additional information, the Deputy Permanent Secretary, Fedeé, who was responsible for the purchase and delivery of the tractors, initially told the PAC that the tractors were purchased and left in the care of the supplier. According to her, the villages were notified that the tractors were available for pick up. However, she subsequently told the Committee that the tractors were paid for in the latter part of 2015, delivered in 2016 and handed over to the villages in 2017.
Fedeé further told the Committee that the tractors were stored in a compound housing the region’s dorm, but this was refuted by the Dorm Manager Rosamund Daly. Daly said as of December, 2016, the tractors were not in the vicinity. She further added that the tractors were placed in the compound in 2017. Being faced with this information, the Deputy Permanent Secretary said she will now have to return to her documents, and as such, declined from giving further responses on the matter.
But the situation was further compounded when Fedeé told the Committee that no contract was signed during the procurement of the tractors.
Finance Secretary, Dr. Hector Butts had questioned Fedeé about the contracted delivery date and warranty period. He had attempted to verify whether the warranty period had been expired at the time of the delivery, but was met with a ‘brick wall.’
“I have to go back to my document and check the warranty period and see the delivery date too,” Fedeé repeatedly told the Committee.
In the end it was discovered that no contract was signed, and no warranty period clearly stated. Welch, who was at the helm of the Ministry at the time, said that he was of the opinion that there was no need for a contract given that the Tender Board had granted its approval. The tractors purchased from GenEquip were procured using a quotation method.
It was pointed out that similar purchases were made without any written contract in place, and projects executed without the requisite approval and little or no verification done. Additionally, several breaches of the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act were noted.
Chairman of the PAC, Irfaan Ali, remarked that the attitude of the ministry’s officials had become habitual. “This ministry came once before us, they were sent back because of the same type of responses…they presented information that was not factually correct. They came a second time to the PAC, we had a similar situation where information was not here, now this is the third time,” the PAC Chairman lamented.
According to Ali, the ministry is faced with a number of systemic issues which ought to be corrected. PAC Member, Minister Volda Lawrence told King that although he is new to the ministry, he is responsible and should have been thoroughly briefed before appearing before the PAC.
The Ministry Officials were asked to leave the Parliament Chamber, and consult with one another based on the issues raised. They reappeared hours after, and under King’s leadership was able to provide some information.