With the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) uncovering increasing cases of overpayment of contractors, Ministry staff who fraudulently certify works will soon start feeling the squeeze following directives from the committee.
During Monday’s sitting of the PAC, the Home Affairs Ministry was put under the microscope. It was found that there were several cases of overpayment at the Ministry, dating back to 2016 when it was known as the Public Security Ministry.
The sheer prevalence of overpayments forced PAC member Ganesh Mahipaul to enquire as to the reason for the phenomenon. The general reasons for overpayments were explained by Senior Engineer Danny Ramdehlor.
“There are several cases that lead to overpayment of contractors. A principal one is not having approved variations in the file. There are many cases where contractors go ahead and do unapproved work. That inevitably leads to overpayments.”
“In other cases, there are discrepancies in measurements between the Ministry Engineers and the Audit Office. Many times, that doesn’t lead to very big overpayments because they are discrepancies in the measurements,” he explained.
Overpayments to the tune of $3.5 million were made on a contract for works on the Albion Police Station. According to the Auditor General, the contractor had accepted liability after the Ministry had written to the consultant.
It was explained that during 2015, 2016 and in January 2017, the Ministry recovered $750,000 from the contractor. This left an amount of $2.754 million still to be recovered. Additionally, a letter was written to the Ministry of Legal Affairs for advice on recovering the money.
“However, on July 2, 2015, the contractor wrote the Ministry accepting the overpayment and gave commitment that the sum overpaid would be repaid soon. At the time of reporting, the sum of $2.754 million still remained outstanding,” the report said, noting that the Ministry was advised to pursue the matter.
In the case of the Kamarang Police Station, overpayments totalling $1.2 million were made. In fact, it was found that the Kamarang Police Station had as many as 20 discrepancies with measurements. These discrepancies included material being substituted.
Despite this, the Ministry certified these works, causing the Finance Ministry to disburse payments. These repeat offenses would cause Chairman of the PAC, Jermaine Figueira, to urge action against staff who are responsible for such overpayments, since he noted that the focus is usually on the contractors when it is the Ministry staff who approved the work.
“In light of these revelations FS, your office has to do something. Send a circular to that effect. That before these works are signed off, it has to satisfy the scope of works. And if the engineers or clerk of works are responsible for overpayments happening at those agencies, they are the ones that should be sanctioned as well.”
“Because they are responsible for certifying these works as per the contract requirements. Because when the Audit Office go in and their engineers go back and measure the work, they realise that this scope of work wasn’t followed,” Figueira said.
Finance Secretary Sukrishnalall Pasha indicated that a circular to this effect would be sent out. According to him, such actions are a breach of the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act (FMAA).
“It is a serious matter and it actually constitutes an offence. Because if you are to look at it logically, there may be some amount of falsification of documents submitted. We would treat the documents submitted to our Ministry as authentic documents to make payments accordingly.”
“So that message will have to be sent out. If it can be proven that there was falsification of documents, then it would constitute an offense and the consequences are spelt out in section 85 of the FMAA, which would be three years’ imprisonment,” Pasha said.
Meanwhile, Permanent Secretary Mae Thomas spoke of a new system being implemented that would better monitor large-scale contracts. This includes putting persons whose specific job would be contract management.