…in four months
The office of the Auditor General (AG) while checking the financial affairs of the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs found that the ministry spent $6.759M for the supply of greens, fruits and vegetables for an Amerindian hostel for a four-month period.
Appearing before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) yesterday, Permanent Secretary (PS) Alfred King said that the multimillion-dollar purchase was to provide meals for 100-120 persons.
He explained that the persons who benefitted from the purchase would have been those who were staying at the hostel for a lengthy period of time or individuals who might have been staying over for a day for one reason or the other.
Committee chairman Irfaan Ali questioned how the ministry could have expended such a large sum on the mentioned items over a four-month period. It was also revealed that $47M was budgeted to that said ministry for dietary needs.
What is unclear is if the one-year budget allocation was for the entire ministry or a particular hostel. Ali sought answers from PS King, but he was unable to say how the money was spent.
Further, King was asked to provide a detailed breakdown of how the $47M was spent. The meeting was temporarily suspended to allow the PS and the staff members that formed his delegation to produce the breakdown, which they indicated was available.
The ministry was also instructed to provide records to support its earlier claim that the vegetable vendor, from Bourda Market, is known to the ministry, since the supplies were sole sourced from the individual.
Earlier King told the PAC that the reason why the vegetables were sourced only from the vendor was because there is a history between the supplier and the ministry that has been documented.
When the session reconvened and the PS was asked to provide the necessary documents, he said that they were not in his possession since the staffers that have to deal with this were not at work.
King added that the individual had to be called out from sick leave in an attempt to locate the information, but those efforts were futile. The session was suspended at that point, since in Ali’s judgment the ministry was not prepared for the committee.
But before the delegation left, it was also revealed that the same supplier in question was paid $2.5M instead of $250,000 for vegetables that were supplied. According to King, this error was made because the person who prepared the cheque imputed the wrong figure.
Chairman Ali asked who was responsible for signing off on such an arrangement and why the error was not flagged. King, who was recently appointed as PS to that ministry, said that he could not say why such an error was made.
However the PS said that his ministry has since recouped the majority of that overpayment and efforts are being made to collect the remaining amount.
The committee questioned if the supplier still does business with the ministry and was advised that the vendor no longer supplies the ministry.
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