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Robbing the poor - Unauthorised use of funds by gov't employees

Published:Friday | March 9, 2018 | 12:00 AMEdmond Campbell/Senior Staff Reporter
Monroe Ellis

The Ministry of Labour and Social Security's Rehabilitation Programme Policy (RPP) has come under serious scrutiny from Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis, who has reported that staff members at the ministry are benefiting from the funds earmarked for poor Jamaicans.

In an audit of the RPP, Monroe Ellis found that approximately $2 million in payments was made to staff members over the period April 2012 to March 2017 without the ministry implementing the appropriate safeguards.

"We noted that 65 per cent, totalling approximately $1.3 million, was made directly to staff members and the remaining 35 per cent was made to two companies owned by a staff member," the auditor general reported.

Additionally, Monroe Ellis found 35 payments amounting to $701,071 were made to two companies owned by a staff member. "We requested 13 applications for audit scrutiny, however, only two were received. Notwithstanding, we noted that due process was not followed for these two payments."

The audit also found that the grant application did not begin at the parish office, but from the Public Assistance Department (PAD), which administers the programme. "There was no social worker investigation to verify the legitimacy of the need. Nonetheless, payments were made based on the payment advice listing supplied by the PAD to the Accounts Department," said Monroe Ellis.

According to the auditor general, a review of the staff member's personnel file revealed that there was no declaration informing the ministry of the staff member's ownership interest. This action, or lack thereof, represented a breach of the ministry's policy and transparency.

Despite requests by the Auditor General's Department for the files to support seven payments totalling $130,000 made to another staff member, only one application form was received. "Our review of the form confirmed similar weaknesses as noted above, whereby there was no evidence of social worker investigation and, similarly, the process started at the PAD unit."

Further, the auditor general disclosed that 11 payments totalling $210,000 were made to a beneficiary, which is the owner of a registered company. Three applications were seen for compassionate grants to the same beneficiary with the invoices used as the support for the claim bearing the registered company's name and the beneficiary's name and signature. "These cheques were written in the name of the owner, which was tantamount to the owner purchasing goods from oneself."

When the auditor general drilled deeper into the RPP, it was revealed that nine payments totalling $175,000 to two other beneficiaries bearing the same surname as the owner of the registered company were supported by invoices from said company.

However, there was no evidence of any due diligence being carried out by a social worker or any other officer prior to the payment of these grants. Despite the application being supported by an invoice from said registered company, the payments were made in the beneficiaries' names. The auditor general noted that this breach was evident throughout the programme. "We also noted that the claims originated from the PAD unit at the head office and not the parish office in breach of the RPP."