Wed | Jan 27, 2021

Energy ministry retirees paid more as consultants for same job

Published:Sunday | January 26, 2020 | 12:32 AMMcPherse Thompson - Assistant Editor – Business

The Ministry of Science, Energy and Technology (MSET) did not take its human resource needs into account when it decided to approve special early retirement for six officers in April 2018 and their subsequent engagement as consultants on a one-year contract, according to the findings of Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis.

The six retirees were paid between 22.1 per cent and 263 per cent more than their emoluments prior to their retirement, although the terms of reference and scope of service of the consultancies were similar to their respective functions on the job.

Those officers were not paid based on the jobs they performed, but received fixed monthly payments totalling $21.67 million for the period, which the auditor general said significantly exceeded the 15 per cent savings of $4.4 million allowable under the special early retirement programme.

As such, MSET’s action would not have been in line with the Government’s fiscal strategy to keep emoluments at nine per cent of gross domestic product, said the auditor general in the 2018-19 report tabled in Parliament last week.

Further, the ministry did not obtain competitive quotations nor advertise the consultancy services, it said.

According to the report, in justifying the use of the direct contracting method, the ministry indicated that the procurement of the consultancy service was urgent. However, the ministry did not assess the impact on the organisation of the separation of all six officers – who worked in critical technical areas – at the same time.

Asked for comment on the report, MSET, which is headed by Minister Fayval Williams and Permanent Secretary Carol Palmer, indicated to the Financial Gleaner that its usual forum for responding to the auditor general’s findings is in the House on the invitation of parliamentary committees.

The auditor general also found that the ministry’s failure to verify an employee’s income tax status resulted in the officer benefiting twice from the income tax threshold, causing an underpayment of tax and an overpayment of $281,268.

According to the report, the ministry acknowledged that an overpayment was made and has since reached out to the officer to make arrangement for reimbursement.

In addition, the auditor general found that MSET did not carry out a needs assessment to inform its decision to procure fixed assets. Monroe Ellis said that at the time of reporting computer equipment costing $663,183 were not put to use and were in storage two years after its acquisition, thereby increasing the risk of obsolescence. Eight other computer items were also seen in storage.

“However, due to the poor maintenance of the inventory records we were not able to determine when these items were purchased,” the Auditor General’s Department said.

The report said that fixed assets acquired at a cost of $1.44 million were not recorded in the inventory records or marked with the ministry’s assets codes. Furthermore, the ministry did not carry out routine or annual independent checks of its assets and records to identify and correct any discrepancies that may exist.

“We expected the ministry to purchase assets on the basis of need, as well as to ensure that assets are adequately inventoried and safeguarded,” said the report.

Failure to implement proper controls over assets may foster misuse, and the ministry will not be able to ascertain whether or when items go missing, it added.

The auditor general said the ministry has since advised that the assets are appropriately marked, records upgraded and that going forward measures to improve management of assets will be undertaken.

Expressing concern about the poor management of fleet vehicles, the auditor general said the ministry did not implement proper systems to ensure the efficient use of public resources and adherence to government regulations.

“We noted that the responsible officer did not perform the requisite reconciliation of the suppliers’ statements and its records to identify and correct errors and irregularities,” said the report.

The Auditor General’s Department found no evidence that the ministry investigated the variance of $833,166 identified between the total payment of $6.85 million made to the fuel supplier for the period April 2017 to March 2019, and $6.01 million reported in the operational efficiency records.

In addition, MSET only provided log books for one of eight fleet vehicles for 2017-18 and log books for three of 10 vehicles for 2018-19.

The auditor general said MSET recognised the deficiencies in the execution of the duties within the transport unit and advised that the duties of the transport manager were reassigned.