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Govt contracts in question

Report again points to wastage of public money
Guardian Senior Reporter

Published: Oct 17, 2013

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The 2011 Report of the Auditor General again raises concerns over the

“wastage” and “loss” of public funds at various government agencies and highlights cases where the Department of Environmental Health Services (DEHS) awarded contracts to government employees and in some instances made payouts for maintenance work that civil servants were already paid to perform.

The report also noted an

“exorbitant” expenditure at the DEHS of nearly $10,000 on employee cellular phone cards over a two-year period.

The report was tabled in the House of Assembly yesterday. It covers the period of July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2011.

The report by Auditor General Terrance S. Bastian questions the legitimacy of several payments the DEHS made for the maintenance of public spaces and asks why the department would hire a contractor to perform work that is done by government workers.

The report says a $9,500 payment voucher was authorized for cleaning the following grounds in a community: a primary school yard; a basketball court and soccer field; a volleyball court; a community clinic and the road from the entrance of Gambier to the basketball court.

“However, we were informed by the Ministry of Education and the Department of Public Health that their agencies already employ persons to carry out the above functions,” the report says. “As a result, we could not determine the legitimacy of this payment.”

“In the absence of a credible explanation, we recommended that the funds expended be recovered and brought to account and evidence be provided for audit review.”

A line item called “director’s response” gave an explanation for the payout: “School yards have traditionally always been prepared for the start of the school in the fall by the Road and Park Division. “Works conducted at the schools were at the request of the Ministry of Education and the directives of the Ministry of the Environment.”

Regarding the DEHS contracts that were given to government employees, the auditor general said, “We noted that payments were made for the cleaning of Yamacraw Park.

“However, our investigation revealed that the payments were made to a full-time employee of The Bahamas government, having been employed since February 15, 1988.

“We were advised by the director of DEHS that contracts are not granted to employees or agents of the government and as a result, we regard the payments as a conflict of interest.

“It is recommended that an explanation be provided to show why a public servant was issued a contract. In the absence of a credible explanation, we recommended that the funds expended be recovered and brought to account and evidence be provided for audit review.

“We further recommended that the department include a background check as part of the vetting of contractors to avoid conflict of interest.”

The auditor general also found that a payment was made to government employees for the maintenance of the Quarry Mission Road Park and G.K. Symonette Library.

The report also says that DEHS managers and staff were given monthly cellular phone cards, which amounted to $9,928.05 between October 2009 and November 2011.

“It is also noted that some of these officers are stationed in the office from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with access to land lines. Consequently, we could not determine the reason for the exorbitant amount of money spent on phone cards,” the report notes.

The auditor general asked for an explanation on the expenditure.

The report included a line called “director’s response”, which explained that DEHS staff who were given phone cards were all required to work outside of the office.

The explantation also added that employees with responsibility for solid waste, roads and parks, frequently needed to contact officials outside of normal work hours.

In addition to concerns over wastage of public funds, the report also notes weaknesses in the internal controls relating to revenue and expenditure at various government agencies and called for the implementation of an integrated financial management system to improve accounting practices.

The auditor general has raised similar concerns in previous reports.

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