By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
A SERIES of separate audits looking into the operations of Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ embassies, consulate general offices and a permanent mission, has pointed to apparent loose protocols where there is “excessive” overtime pay, “exorbitant” spending and thousands in uncollected revenue among other shortfalls.
At the Bahamas Embassy in Washington, DC, the ambassador’s chauffeur was paid $46,883.13 in overtime during a three-year period from 2014 to 2016, while at the Bahamas Consulate General’s office in DC, the messenger/driver received overtime amounting to $21,534.92.
Auditors said at the embassy in DC, officials paid a company $22,484 for an event, but the entity did not perform the duties which were agreed upon.
“During our review, we noted that the Embassy of the Bahamas, Washington, DC, executed an agreement for service to be provided by an entity,” Auditor General Terrance Bastian said in an audit conducted for the period January 1, 2014 to June 30, 2016. The reports were tabled by House Speaker Halson Moultrie in Parliament yesterday.
“The event was scheduled to take place on August 3, 2013. Retainer fees in the amount $22,484 was paid.
“The entity did not perform the duties as agreed; hence a demand letter was raised in 2013 seeking a refund.
“At the time of the review, the matter was unresolved and remained outstanding.”
Mr Bastian recommended the Ministry of Foreign Affairs refer the matter to the Office of the Attorney General in order to pursue legal options.
The audit further noted the approval of $68,6000 to pay educational allowance to an officer.
While at the time of the review, the cheque had already been issued to the officer, Mr Bastian said receipts confirming payment of school fees were not provided.
It also noted a security deposit for a residential rental for an officer of $3,800 had not been returned, despite the officer executing a new lease on a residence in the amount of $4,250 monthly.
And at the Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York, over a period of two year - July 2014 to June 2015 and July 2015 to June 2016 - a total of $28,291.34 was spent to accommodate the hosting of diplomatic and promotional events, including receptions to colleges and universities attended by Bahamians.
Auditors also had challenges confirming whether long distance phone calls at this permanent mission were official or private.
They made the same observation regarding telephone calls for phones attached to the Bahamas Consulate General’s Office in New York, those at the embassies in Port-au-Prince, Haiti and in Havana, Cuba.
A review of loan files at the Haitian embassy revealed a request was made for a loan without the ambassador’s approval. Mr Bastian said loans were also granted without letters of request and/or approval.
He recommended the loan files be updated with request letters and approvals from the ambassador and the file be maintained showing payment of loans.
When the auditor reviewed the Bahamas Embassy in Beijing, China for the period January 1, 2014 to May 31, 2016, it was found there remained an outstanding balance of $29,700.20.
“It is recommended that deliberate steps be taken to collect all outstanding amounts due to the embassy (in) Beijing, China as a high level of receivables have the potential to negatively impact the operational cash flow.”
The audit also notes: “During our scrutiny we noted that a total of US $10,920 was expended by the embassy for storage of furniture and insurance fees. We were told that a contract did not exist and amounts were disbursed every six months. The amounts spent were too exorbitant and can lead to a drain of the operational funds.”
Mr Bastian recommended arrangements be made for storage of furniture be reviewed. He further recommended management seek to have the furniture sold or disposed of.
He highlighted additional wastage by the embassy in China, saying $624.95 was spent on the purchase and set up of accounting software, but it was not accessible to Embassy staff.