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‘Concerns’ over food programme controls

THE Davis administration is “concerned” about preliminary details which have emerged from the process of auditing the former government’s COVID-19 spending, with one official saying the lack of the availability of critical information is “disturbing”.

In a statement released about the issue yesterday, Director of Communications in the Office of the Prime Minister Latrae Rahming said payments totalling more than $9m were paid out to an entity that did not appear to be classified as an NGO.

“Early accounts indicate no evidence that an internal control environment related to the food programme and the task force was designed and implemented by the office of the Financial Secretary of the Ministry and the Department of SS (Social Services),” Mr Rahming’s statement noted.

“Furthermore, there was no evidence that the office of the Financial Secretary of the Ministry, the Department of (Social Services), and the task force collaborated to design policies, procedures and best practices aimed towards the execution of the task force’s duties, inclusive of reporting and monitoring.

“There was no evidence of authorised contracts in place with the NGOs under the food programme. There was no evidence that controls existed for financial reporting and monitoring. There was no evidence that the Department of (Social Services) obtained an understanding of the task force’s policies and procedures related to the food programme.”

He said this specifically related to selections for NGOs, beneficiaries, procurement and payment by the NGOs and expenses incurred and settled by the NGOs.

He also said the Department of Social Services “did not appear to have received and/or maintained sufficient and appropriate documentation and support” related to the task force’s operations and execution of the national food distribution programme specifically for verification of resource allocation; beneficiary data; expenditures incurred and settled, and minutes for meetings held.

“There was no evidence of controls in place to address personal data protection and data integrity. The Department of (Social Services) noted duplications of beneficiaries at the end of the food programme.

“Payments totalling $9,139,029 was made out to a beneficiary that did not appear to be classified as an NGO. There was no evidence of controls to address arm’s length transactions and transparency,” Mr Rahming said.

“So we are concerned, and this demonstrates a greater need for us to get a comprehensive understanding of what transpired and to provide a thorough account of the decisions made by the previous administration in the view of reporting back to the Bahamian people.”

Mr Rahming said the emergency powers which were instituted under the Minnis administration granted former Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis “unchecked authority in procurement and suspension of civil liberties”.

He added: “We owe it to our democracy and the people of this country to determine if this power was abused.”

Attempts to reach Dr Minnis for comment yesterday were unsuccessful.

However when he was contacted, Free National Movement leader Michael Pintard told The Tribune the Davis administration has all the access to the relevant information about the previous administration’s food programme and should be able to use all of its resources to get any answers it needs.

“I’ve been advised that when this report was being put together, that adequate advice had been provided that could have guided the Office of the Prime Minister in getting a fulsome account of the sequence of events, the nature of the programme, and its execution,” Mr Pintard said last night.

“It would be useful to know whether or not they are considering this a full audit, if so which firm conducted it, and in the event that it is being classified as an audit, or even as a report, one of the guiding principles is that they would speak with each of those persons identified to get a sense of what the facts are.”

He said the government has in its possession the Cabinet conclusion about the task force which would have outlined the full structure of the food programme.

“So this question of structure and the mandate of the task force is clearly evident and the government has full sight of all of that, so any suggestion to the contrary would be intentionally misleading,” the Marco City MP said.

He said the government also has access to former task force chair Susan Larson, who has clear documentation as to how the programme was executed in relation to NGOs, as well as the respective permanent secretary who could answer questions about government spending.

He added that the NGOs who were a part of the food task force are reputable agencies who are well known.

“(There’s) no need for them to pretend to either not have access to or to be completely unclear on where they can get information because all of it is readily available to them,” Mr Pintard said.

“They could use all of these emotive terms to paint some picture that they wish to paint. . .you don’t have to insinuate anything especially on the basis of information you can access to give full clarity to the situation.

“It’s unfortunate that these kinds of partial reports with commentary that could easily be answered if they do the proper investigation, it’s unfortunate that they are approaching it in this way. Just do the full report and if there are matters that have weight, then put it in the public domain and let’s address it.”

Mr Pintard added that the government should put increased focus on Bahamians who need access to food.

“What I’d like to see is for those Bahamians who are food insecure, for the government to clearly outline what is its plan of action and timeline to meet those needs which from my standpoint as a member of Parliament, we are hearing the cries with great frequency and quite loudly, up to tonight, persons reaching out for assistance.

“. . .There is a real, serious need. . .the government ought to have multiple sites for distribution to reduce the long lines of persons who have to wait for food, that adds to their frustration of waiting for an inordinate amount of time for a coupon to feed their families.”

He said unconfirmed reports suggest some people that have requested assistance have not gotten help. He said the government should explain the level of requests it has received and how much of that total number their food programme is meeting.

The national food distribution programme was started in the spring of 2020, with a weekly spend in 2021 of slightly more than $768,000.

The initiative has since been disbanded, with the Department of Social Services overseeing emergency food distribution.

Comments

ThisIsOurs 5 months, 2 weeks ago

The FNM should note that Mrs Larson herself said that there were aspects of the program that could have been run better. So begin from that point, not from a point of we did everything right.

And there's no need for everything to have been done right. "at the start". On this one, I'll allow them the we never did this before. But that can't go on for 2 years.. you have to move from a position of chaos to one of efficiency and professionalism

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stillwaters 5 months, 2 weeks ago

How did Obie's planning a new way forward conclude? He spoke about using a new method, but never got back to us on that. The food y'all are discussing now has long been flushed down many toilets.....what's the new way?

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stillwaters 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Every time this government has to face backlash from it's citizens.....this time it's about the Dubai trip.....it releases some 'concern ' or another about the previous government, trying to change the narrative.

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themessenger 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Agreed! Perhaps the Davis administration, Obie in particular, should just do nothing, let all of them starve to death then let God sort them out.

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Sickened 5 months, 2 weeks ago

no matter who's in government we always put blame on the previous government. Trust is we haven't had good governance for 20 odd years. We keep doing worse as a country. I'm astonished that the majority of us are comfortable with mediocracy. Maybe it's our complete lack of a decent education?

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ThisIsOurs 5 months, 2 weeks ago

"What I’d like to see is for those Bahamians who are food insecure, for the government to clearly outline what is its plan of action and timeline to meet those needs which from my standpoint as a member of Parliament, we are hearing the cries with great frequency and quite loudly, up to tonight, persons reaching out for assistance.

Was Michael Pintard still in Parliament when the Minnis administration cut the assistance list from 15,000 households to 4000?

This whole statement is very odd, its like he just hearing this for the first time. My earlier point was, acknowledge the mistakes and move from there with suggestions on how not to repeat those mistakes or how to make things better

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realfreethinker 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Another f..k..g distraction. When will this new day government begin to govern. These idiots obviously didn't have a plan. We are really f..k.d

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