533 Financial Breaches Reported in Schools
The internal audit unit in the Ministry of Education has revealed that 533 breaches of the regulations regarding financial management have been identified from 35 audits conducted by the unit in the most recent reporting cycle.
According to documents obtained by The Gleaner through an access-to-information request, the Ministry of Education said it was concerned that the financial management practices of schools are weak.
According to the ministry, there needs to be "a strengthening of internal control systems, monitoring to ensure compliance, as well as continuing to hold fiduciaries of public resources accountable for the various breaches which would serve to improve sector performance".
The nature of the breaches discovered by the ministry's audit unit include unauthorised expenditure, overpayments and short payment, non-receipting of funds collected, untimely and short lodgement of funds collected, bank accounts not properly reconciled, bank overdrafts, misappropriation of funds and procurement breaches.
In regards to the procurement breaches, the audit unit identified eight such breaches, the nature of which included works not tendered, fragmented payments, insufficient quotations obtained for procurements over a specified limit and a lack of contracts for persons performing works.
In response to questions regarding sanctions that will be levied against board members and administrators who fail to manage within the guidelines and regulations regarding financial management, a response from the National Council on Education (NCE) noted that sanctions could range from termination of employment to court action.
"The main sanction which could be levied against school board members if they fail to observe the guidelines and regulations governing financial management of school resources would be revocation of their appointments by the Minister of Education in keeping with Section 9(3) of the Education Act, 1965 and Section 79(3) of the attendant Regulations, 1980. Further sanctions could be imposed by the courts if it is deemed that their actions are criminal in nature," the NCE said.
According to the NCE, "the sanctions faced by school administrators is more severe. Administrators who fail to manage the financials in keeping with the requisite guidelines and regulations could face disciplinary actions which could result in the termination of their employment. School administrators are also subject to the provisions outlined in a circular regarding the payment of judgement debts, negotiated settlements and ex-gratia awards."
That circular states that, "in all cases of judgement debts, negotiated statements and ex-gratia payments, permanent secretaries...must in accordance with Part VI of the Financial Administration and Audit (FAA) Act and the Financial Management Regulations where appropriate, take...disciplinary action in respect of negligent employees...submit a report to the auditor general for investigation...or make an order for contribution towards the payment in accordance with the FAA Act."
The Ronald Thwaites-led ministry did not indicate if it would be levying sanctions against any school board or administrator for any of the 533 breaches discovered.