NASSAU, BAHAMAS — An audit of the consulate general of The Bahamas in Miami found a lack of oversight of the payroll process, and an “abuse” of the educational allowance, which allowed two officers to receive over $167,000.
The audit was performed for the period July 1, 2016, and June 30, 2018.
When contacted, Consul General in Miami Linda Treco-Mackey told Eyewitness News the issues raised in the audit transpired during the previous administration, and have since been largely resolved or were in the process of being resolved.
The examination of the Miami consulate revealed that two employees with children were given an education allowance of $22,000 per child annually, however, the consulate nor the Ministry of Foreign Affairs “could produce evidence to support enrollment and attendance of these officers’ children.”
According to the audit, which was tabled in the House of Assembly yesterday, one officer referred to as ‘Officer A’ had three children, while the other, called ‘Officer B’ had one child.
“Further, we observed that one of officers A’s children did not attend a private high school, but a public high school for which tuition is not required,” read the report prepared by Auditor General Terrance Bastian.
According to an examination of the records, ‘Officer A’ received a total of $137,800 during the period: $37,000 in September 2016, $29,6000 in January 2017, $34,200 in July 2017, $37,000 in August 2017.
Meanwhile, ‘Officer B’ received a total of $29,645 during the period: $2,531 in August 2016, $2,531 in November 2016, $2,383 in December 2016 and $22,000 in July 2017.
“We recommend that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs provide documentation to support the expenditure,” read the report.
According to Treco-Mackey, the two officers in question were no longer with the consulate.
Asked if they were fired, she said there was no evidence disciplinary actions was taken against them.
In a June 22, 2020, letter attached to the report, Bastian wrote to the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs indicating that he had met and discussed the observations of the report with management, which agreed to implement the necessary changes.
The letter was also sent to the financial secretary, the Treasurer and the speaker of the House of Assembly.
According to the report, during an examination of payroll auditors found that overtime payments were restricted to amounts not exceeding $500 by the former head of the Miami consulate.
The restriction of overtime payment was applied on numerous occasions to two officers, namely a filing assistant and a chauffeur for the former head of the consulate.
The auditor found the officers were owed more than $2,400 and $3,500 respectively for overtime worked.
“We recommend that all remuneration due to staff for time worked be paid in accordance with public service orders a maximum of not more than 35 hours and time off in lieu of hours exceeding the maximum,” read the audit.
“In this regard, if the $500 does not exceed the maximum of 35 hours, then [the] amount owed to staff members should be determined.
The report also found that staff locally employed at the consulate were not receiving union increases afforded to the public service as a result of agreements reached by the Bahamas Public Service Union with the government.
In July 2014, public servants received a lump sum payment equivalent to one increment by August 2014; $1,200 plus the normal increment and an extension of the salary scales by two increments in July 2016; and a lump sum payment equivalent to one normal increment in July 2017.
Bastian said: “We note that increases are not automatically passed on the local staff in the foreign service.”
As it relates to the oversight of the payroll process, auditors said an examination of payroll showed that the pay sheet was not evidenced as being reviewed and approved by management.
The report said records for locally employed staff were only retained for a six-month period and no payroll information was retained for seconded, contracted staff at the consulate.
There was also no systematic filing of contracts in accounts and records of these employees were kept in a “haphazard manner or not at all for seconded employees”, according to the audit.
Additionally, the report found that there was no human resource function at the consulate and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not readily share information on contracted staff with the accounting section.
“As such we could not determine the validity of payroll at the Miami Consulate beyond the limited information and documentation provided,” read the report.
“We recommend that controls surrounding the review and approval of payroll be strengthened.”
The report also found there was no pension plan for the locally employed staff at the consulate.
Auditors said upon inquiry, they were advised “no one has ever retired from the Miami Consulate, so management never saw fit to address this issue”.
However, at the time of the report, there was one staff eligible for retirement, having served at the office for 30 years.
Four debit cardholders spent over $156,000 during the two fiscal periods under review, according to the report, which indicated the debit cards did not have assigned limits.
The auditor general also said a number of purchases made by the debit cardholders had no supporting documentation, no quotes, requisitions, purchase orders, and invoices evidenced for these transactions.
A cardholder referred to as ‘Officer 1’ spent more than $33,000 in 2016 and nearly $59,000 in 2017, totaling just shy of $92,000.
“It is imperative that management introduces policies to circumvent misuse of assigned debit cards,” auditors said.
The auditor general recommended established spending limits for each cardholder, monthly monitoring of purchases, approved purchase in writing of amounts exceeding spending limits; copies of all supporting documentation is retained; and original receipts be submitted to the accounting department along with a reconciliation statement on a weekly and monthly basis.
Additionally, the auditors found incorrect accounting of revenue, no centralized location for revenue documentation, no evidence of visa authorization, unclear service fees on authentication receipts, revenue receipts copies not being retained at the consulate and the e-visa machine being inoperable since October 2017.