System-wide changes already started at the education ministry, says Williams
Minister of Education and Youth, Fayval Williams, said several steps have already been taken towards addressing troubling issues at her ministry.
She was responding to concerns raised by Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis in a report tabled in Parliament on Tuesday, which looked into the systems and operations at the ministry.
The report outlined several risk-factors at the ministry that needed to be addressed. The education ministry has been embroiled in numerous controversies over the last few years.
In her report, the auditor general said the ministry runs the risk of falling victim to fraud, unauthorised withdrawals, and significant bank errors because of its failure to prepare its bank reconciliation statements in a timely manner.
The auditor general pointed out that seven years of outstanding appropriation accounts revealed a systemic breakdown in accountability, heightening the risk of breaches of the Financial Administration and Audit Act and regulations governing the management and use of budgetary resources.
Monroe Ellis pointed out that this risk had materialised in the audit of the appropriation accounts for 2019-20.
The auditor general recommended that the ministry take the necessary steps to rectify the issues.
In a press release today, Williams said she agreed with the auditor general that not doing timely auditing of accounts and not ensuring up-to-date bank reconciliations present significant financial risks.
She said, on her instructions, the ministry has already taken important steps to restore financial integrity system-wide across the ministry.
Williams explained that consequent on her intervention upon becoming minister, several steps were already taken since a letter on her instruction was sent to the auditor general on July 22, 2021, seeking her permission to hire external financial auditors to bring the long outstanding audits of the Appropriations Accounts of the ministry up to date.
This letter to the auditor general was followed by a meeting on July 27, 2021, and included the minister, the auditor general, the acting permanent secretary at the time and the principal financial officer, the press release stated.
“The objective of the meeting, as requested by the auditor general, was to have the Auditor General's Department better understand the issues plaguing the ministry and to determine the way forward in bringing the accounts up to date,” the minister said in the release.
NEW STAFF HIRED
“Since then, we sought and received permission to shore up the capacity at the ministry's Internal Audit Unit to allow them to fast track the backlog of auditing work that needs to be done for the Appropriations Accounts,” said Williams.
“Fourteen new positions were approved for the unit to include audit managers, senior auditors and auditors. Some of those positions have been filled. For the unfilled positions, recruitment efforts are underway. Of note, the additional 14 persons will increase the complement of the professionals in the internal audit unit from 25 to 39 persons.”
The minister further revealed that, “Upon my engagement, the Compliance and Post Audit unit which only had one person, now has approval for three additional professionals to include two compliance officers and one investigator.
“Additionally, we have engaged the services of financial accounting specialists to work with the staff in the finance division to bring up to date all outstanding Appropriations Accounts, to provide training for staff in the finance division of the ministry and to complete the backlog of bank reconciliations.”
Williams added, “Beyond bringing accounts up to date, the financial accounting specialists are required to review the internal operations of the Final Accounts Unit of the Finance Division and provide guidelines to eliminate identified weaknesses."
The minister also noted that she has sought technical assistance to conduct a strategic review of the ministry with a special focus on the financial processes. The recommendations will provide the guide for system-wide financial risk reduction through improved processes and implementation of finance and accounting systems.
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