By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
MORE than $700,000 was wrongly paid out to 1,227 Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) officers in 2014, the Office of the Auditor General has found.
The officers were given lump sum payments otherwise afforded only to Bahamas Public Service Union members, despite the fact RBDF officers are among a group explicitly excluded from receiving the lump sums according to the 2014 BPSU Industrial Agreement.
The report said $710,250 was wrongly paid out.
The finding is contained in an audit report tabled in the House of Assembly yesterday for the period July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2015.
Of the irregularity, the Auditor General said: “This breakdown in the internal controls with respect to the agreed articles set out in the Industrial Agreement has a wider impact than just the amount noted herein for the RBDF. As there were ten categories of (excluded) employees, these other employees may have also received lump sum payments on August 17, 2014 that may have gone undetected.”
Auditor General Terrance Bastian, during his investigation, also found an irregularity that had the opposite effect, robbing some officers of payments to which they were entitled.
The salary entry point for officers is $18,600, but some RBDF recruits received $600 less than they should have, Mr Bastian found.
The Auditor General said to now pay $600 per annum to 833 people who were enlisted between 2003 to 2015 “would have a monumental impact on public funds.”
In fact, he said the impact on the Consolidated Fund could be as high as $435,000 if anomalies connected to the issue are addressed.
The Office of the Auditor General also found five vendors who provided services to the Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) between 2013 and 2015 under-reported the amount of money they received to a combined total of $1,047,321.95, impacting their associated business licencing fees.
Mr Bastian said: “Payments made by the government to these vendors exceeded the gross revenue they reported to the Business Licence Unit.”
The companies in question are not listed in the report, yet businesses who knowingly present false information in declarations commit an offence and could be liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years.
“There appears to be a lack of interconnectivity within the government system that allows internal and external perpetrators of fraud to manipulate weakness in internal control for their gain,” the Auditor General concluded.
“The companies examined either did not have a business licence or was able to obtain licences just before conducting business with the RBDF. In some cases, the RBDF was the sole revenue generator for these businesses. These businesses should be penalised in accordance with the Business Licence Act (2010), otherwise it would appear that such activities are acceptable.”
Mr Bastian also found that between October 14, 2014 and June 26, 2015, $275,000 was “expended” to a home-based business that had been denied a business licence. The business had quoted a tax identification number, charged and received value added tax (VAT) but was not registered with the VAT office.
The auditor general said: “It is unfathomable as to how 18 invoices from this company could be processed without the accounting section verifying whether this company was legitimate. It would that there had to be collusion and a lack of oversight during the approval phases and processing of these invoices over the nine months during which these transactions occurred.
“Once a business starts to transact with the government without a licence, it gives that business credence to continue to do the same within the public domain. Since public officers and professionals are held to ethical standards, it would appear in this instance that those standards were not upheld. Fraudulent activities were borne by both sides and could have accelerated to additional purchases processed in favour of this company. This manipulation of the system resulted in losses for the government in its expenditure relating to these purchases, the revenue not collected in customs duties, Business Licence Fees, and VAT Fees.”
The Auditor General said his office discussed its report with the RBDF, the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Public Service, all of whom “accepted and agreed to take the action necessary based on the findings, implications, and recommendations in the report.”