By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
COMMANDERS or supervisors who signed time sheets for police reservists who failed to work may face disciplinary action if the recommendations of a recent branch audit are followed.
Due to improper management of timesheets, the Royal Bahamas Police Force’s Reserves audit found it was possible for the police force to disburse more than $800,000 monthly and just over $9.8m annually on reservist salaries.
The phenomenon resulted in the RBPF’s payroll office having to use contingency funds on a monthly basis to meet reservist salary requirements because budget allocations were based on observed trends.
The reservist audit - tabled in Parliament yesterday - was conducted to determine if management of the branch was aligned with its established guidelines in the Police Act and Force Consolidated Orders, and to identify policies, procedures and practical deficiencies with a view to proposing recommendations.
It follows a manpower audit of the RBPF last year, which recommended an independent report was done on the reservist branch.
It uncovered “disturbing” management failures and overall neglect of the programme as well as “unexplained anomalies” surrounding time sheets that festered due to the “longstanding neglect of duty”.
Those anomalies concerned observations in submitted hours and persons appearing on the payroll, and translated into officers’ salaries “ballooning into full-time employment”.
Discrepancies were most prevalent in New Providence, the report noted.
The audit investigation sparked a crackdown, according to the report, which noted the commissioner of police has requested only commanders sign off on timesheets.
However, the audit said the crackdown unearthed “many dishonest practices”.
The report stated: “Several reserves were submitting timesheets to commanders who had never supervised or met them. When questioned who they were, where and when they worked, many were left speechless. A few senior officers could not be accounted for [on] any divisional duty rota yet they requested pay via timesheets for more than 200 hours.”
The report found some officers were not considered active in their assigned divisions/stations but were still compensated by the payroll office; however due to poor personnel management - and the police force’s lack of economic analysis - there was no proper documentation to determine the actual working hours and active status of reservists.
“Throughout the assessment period it was also determined that the police force had turned a blind eye to the established systemic approach of managing the time sheets for police reserves,” the report said.
“As it was discovered, there were commanders at the respective divisions who never assessed, monitored or evaluated any reserves’ timesheets under their purview.
“Unfortunately, it was also noted some officers were falsifying their actual duty hours when deployed on assignments such as cook-outs or band practice. Many had been allowed to document their own hours on the time sheets then proceeded to have them signed by a desk officer or, in some instances, the reserve’s supervisor.”
In other instances, the report stated it was indicated that some officers serving in ranks of inspector or higher were abusing their positions by not reporting for duty but still received a full allowance for 150 hours per month.
In one example, an officer claimed to have worked 331.5 hours in one month, and 403.5 hours in another month.
“This practice could only be described as exploitation based on an abuse of entrusted power for personal gain,” the report read.
In addition to the implementation of a clocking terminal at various divisions/departments, and an established policy to strengthen the verification process, the report also calls for the matter to be forwarded to the Office of the Auditor General for further investigation.
This phenomenon was acknowledged by Cabinet in 2013, according to the report.
As such, the budget allocation for reserve officers bloomed from $5.73m for the 2014/2015 fiscal year to $6.82m for the 2017/2018 cycle.
The allocation peaked in 2017/2018 at $7.54m.
Reservists are required to work an average of four hours per week with four weeks of entitled vacation, and are not permitted to work more than eight hours per day except for operational contingencies. This schedule amounted to 192 hours per year; however, the report identified the existence of a decade-long culture that saw reservists allowed to work up to 150 hours per month.
Of the 768 officers who turned up for active duty in 2018, the report found 510 officers averaged less than 150 hours; 235 averaged between 150 and 200 hours; while 23 officers worked 200 hours or more.
“A culture in which reserve officers devised their own schedule and failed to report for assigned duties seemed to become entrenched, once again, due to poor management practices of this branch,” the report read.
Among the litany of recommendations put forward by researchers, the report calls for the establishment of a formal database to be monitored by the payroll office to accurately account for all reservists, and that the payroll office conduct a mandatory verification process each year.