By NEIL HARTNELL
and YOURI KEMP
Tribune Business Reporters
A Cabinet minister’s assertion that the Government’s finance officers awarded themselves a $4m pay rise without any Cabinet or other approvals yesterday united the FNM and trade unions in opposition.
Kwasi Thompson, minister of state for finance in the former Minnis administration, demanded that Pia Glover-Rolle, current minister of state for the public service, “clarify or apologise” for statements that “damaged” the reputation of the Government’s accounting and finance staff.
He hit out in a statement after Mrs Glover-Rolle told reporters ahead of the weekly Cabinet meeting that an internal audit showed this group of civil servants had granted themselves increased salaries without first gaining any Cabinet, ministry or Public Service Commission approvals.
She said: “An internal audit was conducted and there are some gaps in the controls when it comes to the finance officers. What has happened is those finance officers have adjusted the system to ensure that their pay rates were increased based on an approval that they would have gotten that we have not, in the public service, had any approval or vision of.
“So, basically, normal government procedure in terms of adjusting the pay scales was not observed. This resulted in an overpayment of $4m-plus by that same scale of employees, where the system would have been adjusted in their favour without the proper government procedures.
“So at this time, the Ministry of Public Service and the Ministry of Finance are meeting to figure out how we are going to address this administration of scales that was not properly authorised. The normal policy on overpayment is recovery. So I will say that the audit has revealed some gaps in terms of controls, and the policy is to recover. We found some things as a result of the audit that were done wrong, and I’m sure consequences will follow.”
However, Mr Thompson rejected Mrs Glover-Rolle’s contention that no approvals were granted by the Minnis administration. He added that the then-permanent secretary in the Ministry of Public Service sent out a formal notice advising of the creation of new posts, and upgraded salary scales, in February 2021. The changes were made retroactive to January 1, 2020.
“The Free National Movement calls on the minister of state to clarify or apologise for her statement that finance officers overpaid themselves $4m,” he said. “The Cabinet of The Bahamas approved the creation of posts and upgrade of scales for the Treasury Department and internal audit with effect from January 1, 2020.
“This approval was communicated in a notice to permanent secretaries, heads of department, finance officers and officers with responsibility for human resources. In this notice, they were asked to upgrade salary books accordingly. It is very curious that the minister has said the Ministry of Public Service has not had any ‘vision’ of the approval. However, it was the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Public Service who sent out the notice in February 2021.
“The minister’s comments have been flat out denied and refuted by the president of the Bahamas Public Service Union (BPSU), Kimsley Ferguson. It is unfortunate that the reputation of all hard-working finance officers has been damaged by the statements made by the minister.”
BPSU representatives later provided a copy of the letter, purportedly signed by permanent secretary, Donella Bodie, and dated February 17, 2021, which announced a revised career path and salary scales for accounting and finance officers. The letter said in part that following an Cabinet meeting, approval was granted for the creation of posts and upgrade of scales for the Treasury Department and Internal Audit with effect from January 1, 2020.
Mrs Glover-Rolle, meanwhile, outlining what the Government’s response may be, said: “Consequences mean that throughout the government service every day, if a public servant is overpaid, the Government seeks to recover those funds however that overpayment may have happened and that is the consequence.
“If there is an overpayment, there is recovery. That is normal. The $4m-plus of the Government’s money that they should not have, it should seek to be recovered. We’re not in a position, and it’s against policy, to allow them to keep the money that isn’t necessarily theirs.... The internal audit has happened and we’re analysing the results.” The audit ended in January, Mrs Glover-Rolle said.