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Dept. has corrected ‘errors’ in handling of public funds

Guardian Senior Reporter

Published: Oct 18, 2013

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The Department of Environmental Health Services (DEHS) has implemented all of the recommendations from the Office of the Auditor General regarding the issuance of contracts and expenditure, DEHS Director Melanie McKenzie said yesterday.

“Anytime there is a review and they point out errors, we try to correct those,” McKenzie said.

The 2011 Report of the Auditor General highlights numerous concerns about practices at the DEHS during the review period of July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2011.

The report outlines cases where the DEHS awarded contracts to government employees, which the report called a conflict of interest, and in some instances made payouts for maintenance work that civil servants were already paid to perform.

The report by Auditor General Terrance S. Bastian recommended that the DEHS implement a vetting policy and background checks before awarding contracts to avoid conflict of interest and ensure that civil servants are not chosen.

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

Former Minister of the Environment Earl Deveaux, who had oversight of the DEHS when the auditor’s review was performed, said he and then Permanent Secretary Ronald Thompson initiated the process.

“We were the ones who were responsible for causing the review to take place,” Deveaux said. “We had heard comments about wastage and how some of the contracts were being issued.”

The report 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.”

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 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.

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 calls 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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