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Auditor General concerned over health-fund spending

Published:Wednesday | January 27, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer

Auditor General Pamela Monroe-Ellis has cited gross extravagance in the expenditure of the National Health Fund (NHF), with its management openly flouting public-sector guidelines to purchase first-class plane tickets, among other things.

In another daring breach of the Income Tax Act, Monroe-Ellis reported that the NHF paid 50 per cent of employees' gym fees and some employees' home Internet bills, without the approval of the finance ministry.

The auditor general's report highlighted expenditure of more than $405,000 for the travel tickets, only weeks after the nation was told that the NHF management had taken out $800,000 to purchase high-priced concert tickets for its staff.

Clearly displeased

The auditor general was clearly displeased with the course being taken by the NHF, established by statute in 2003, to improve the availability of drugs and other health benefits to Jamaicans through a national health insurance scheme.

Monroe-Ellis highlighted 21 areas of concern, unearthed in a comprehensive audit review on selected areas of the NHF's operation.

The audit found that credit-card transactions, totalling J$123,823 and US$1,220, were not considered to be appropriate charges to the NHF.

The auditor general's probe also found that original invoices were not presented for payments to suppliers of goods and services, totalling in excess of $3.8 million.

She said the NHF management was advised to cease making payments without proper supporting documents, as this could result in duplication of payments or the payment of goods and services not received.

Monroe-Ellis said her team was not able to locate evidence of the Ministry of Finance permanent secretary's approval for the rental of a motor vehicle for 16 days, which cost more than $71,000.

Additionally, the auditor general reported that approval was not presented for expenses totalling $1.1 million incurred on behalf of the Ministry of Health and Environment: "The nature of the payments suggests that they should have been made from the ministry's budget."

According to Monroe-Ellis, this action not only contravenes Section 3:02 of the Guidelines to Financial Management in Public Sector Entities, but also bypassed parliamentary control and resulted in the understatement of the ministry's expenditure.

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