CURRENTLY, there are only three of a total of ten Chief Accountants in each administrative region of the country, a grim figure which paints a picture of the strain under which the regional financial management system is operating.
This was among several issues which the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the National Assembly heard on Monday afternoon at Parliament Chambers in the city, in the presence of regional officials from the ten administrative regions.
Speaking at the meeting, Permanent Secretary (PS) in the Ministry of Communities, Emil McGarrel told the committee that the regional financial management system is currently in a “degraded” and “depleted“ state.
He said that the national regional accounting unit stands at 14% of its full staffing strength, adding that an assessment by the ministry suggests that there should be 260 staff members within the system as required for effective management. At the moment, there are 150 persons holding such positions.
Alarmingly, he said, the vacancies exist at “critical levels, such as authorisation and certification levels. Levels with responsibilities for checks and balances, the controls, to ensure the laws and regulations and that circulars are observed and expenditures for regional councils are in keeping what the requirements”, he noted.
The problem, he noted, is hiccupped at the oversight and administrative level within the regions.
He said where it is projected that there is need for an adequate number of finance secretaries, there are a mere five across the country, while of the ten posts of Chief Accountants for each administrative regions, there are only three posts which are filled. “Where we require approximately twenty or forty accountants, we only have six “, he said.
He said that immediate steps need to be taken to bring the system into the position where it will be able to serve the residents, in the delivery of services that are planned through the regional system.
Earlier on Monday, the PS said that the ministry officials met with the regional leaders and the financial management structure was discussed, in an effort to ensure that an agreement is reached. He noted that this is to determine what structural changes can be effected to address the problems faced, such as oversight matters.
McGarrel said that a recommendation made was that in the area of inventory and internal control, that the work of store-keepers and field-auditors be upgraded.
He elaborated that meetings of the existing regional financial committees within the regions are “infrequent“ and according to the PS, such meetings “need to be made more vibrant and dominant and more dynamic”. He said the problem was acknowledged by the Ministry of Communities and efforts were made the address such issues at a consultative forum.
Meanwhile, at Monday’s meeting recurring financial practices such as the regional authorities rolling-over of unspent monies at year-end for contracts without the permit of the Finance Ministry was raised. Auditor General, Deodat Sharma told the PAC and reminded the Regional Chairpersons, their deputies and Regional Executive Officers (REOs) that unspent monies must be returned to the Consolidated Fund at the end of the financial year. In addition, he called for payments to be made to contractors for actual measured work, rather than estimated amounts. The Auditor General also chided the regional accounting officers for authorising payments of, as much as a 50 percent of the mobilisation fee, as advanced payment to contractors.