By Brushell Blackman
The Region Seven authorities have been paying salaries in cash to third parties with authorization and no identification was provided upon receipt of these wages. In 2015 the Auditor General reported that there were 301 employees whose salaries amounted to $31.777M that were paid in cash.
Speaking before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Monday, Regional Executive Officer (REO) of Region Seven, Roderick Edinboro, was asked to explain why the region was paying such large sums in cash when there is a banking system that can be utilized. The committee noted that 266 of these employees were living in sub-regions while the remaining thirty-five, who were paid amounts totaling $4.221M, were living within the district.
Edinboro explained that many employees work in far-flung areas and there is no access to banking in these locations. However he was at a loss to explain why his region is still paying people cash that are living within the district.
When PAC member Volda Lawrence asked if the practice is still ongoing, the REO replied in the affirmative. He explained that persons were written to informing them that this practice will soon cease and monies will be transferred to bank accounts.
When PAC Chairman Irfaan Ali enquired when the letters were written, the REO said one month ago. “But this matter has been raised a year ago and you have only written to these people one month ago,” Ali expressed quizzically.
The Chairman then turned his attention to the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Communities Emile McGarrel, and advised him that more work should be done with the local government organs, since they are not taking the PAC and the Auditor General’s Office seriously, as they are doing nothing with the recommendations provided by these two entities.
To compound the issue of large amounts of cash payments, the PAC also learnt that persons who are employed by the region were authorizing third parties to uplift their salaries, but the third parties were not providing proof of identification.
Edinboro could not say why this was so, and said that he needed more time to address the issues. Ali, who was not in an accommodating mood, asserted that the region had enough time to prepare for the meeting, and that such a response was simply to shirk his (Edinboro’s) responsibilities.
“REO it is clear that you are not prepared for PAC today,” Ali said.
The REO was allowed to continue and when he was grilled about another worrying development arising out of the Auditor General’s Report – that some people who were being paid salaries by cash could not be accounted for – Edinboro said that he was not aware of such an issue and he needed to look into it.
“REO, this is what the AG’s report said, how could you not be aware?” was the query from Committee member Nigel Dharamlall, who asked that there be an investigation into the action, because “such an observation is worrying and there can be no assurances that this is indeed not ongoing”.
Dharamlall said based on the responses that had been given by the REO, it was clear that there was an issue with the accuracy of information that was being provided and that is of great concern.
At this point, another committee member Valerie Patterson interjected and said that the afternoon’s exercise was beginning to become a waste of time, since no definitive answer could be given by the REO. The Chairman agreed and asked the REO and his team to go back to the region and return in two weeks. Ali said he hoped that they would be better prepared upon their return.
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