Bahamas embassy in Washington used Independence funds to defray “other expenses”

The Bank of America has refused to issue the embassy a credit card

Fifteen thousand dollars sent to the Bahamas embassy in Washington in July 2017 to cover the cost of Independence celebrations was used by the embassy to defray “other expenses”, an audit of the accounts of the embassy revealed.

According to the audit, conducted by Auditor General Terrance Bastian, the Cabinet Office approves funds facilitated by the Treasury to defray the cost of Independence celebrations for each overseas office.

The Consul Annex is responsible for the celebration in Washington.

“In July 2017, the Independence funds was sent to the embassy’s operational account in the amount of $15,000,” the report read.

“However, the funds were used to defray other expenses rather than be spent on the Independence celebration.

“Subsequently, an amount of $18,000 was inadvertently sent to the Consul Annex for former ambassadors repatriation cost,” the report noted.

“The Consul Annex subtracted the $15,000 owed to them for the Independence celebration and forwarded the balance to the embassy.

“Independence funds for 2018 was forwarded to the Consul Annex.

“We note the importance of the Independence celebration, as it is a representation of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas and therefore suggest that adequate budgeted amounts be sent to the various missions and embassies.

“This budget should be agreed between foreign affairs, heads of foreign services and the Ministry of Finance.”

The audit covered the period July 1, 2016 to June 20, 2018.

There were 13 staff members at the time of the review.

Sidney Collie was appointed ambassador and permanent representative of The Bahamas to Washington with effect from October 1, 2017.

 

Credit card

According to the audit, the embassy at the time of the audit was not in possession of a credit card as the Bank of America had refused to issue the embassy one due to “discrepancies, which are currently being addressed”.

“During our review of the corporate credit card statements, we were informed that The Bank of America has refused to issue the embassy a credit card due to discrepancies which are currently being addressed

“We view this with great concern because the embassy cannot function efficiently in this technological advanced age without a card.

The auditor general noted, however, that the embassy subsequently paid off the balance.

He said, “We recommend that due diligence be given to purchases on credit to ensure that the limit is not exceeded.”

The embassy operates three non-interest bearing bank accounts: a special functions account, a chequing account and an operational account.

Auditors were provided with a list of outstanding bills totaling $16,851.27 that were incurred of behalf of a staff member.

At the time of the review, that balance remained outstanding.

The auditor general recommended that the arrears be collected and accounted for in the operational account.

The report also noted that another officer was allowed to work overtime in excess of 35 hours per month, accruing $10,237.11 in overtime payments during the period, July 2016 to October 2017.

“We noted that the matter was discussed and approval was given to pay the outstanding overtime,” Bastian said.

“We noted that the embassy is now adhering to public service orders and we admonish them to continue.”

Additionally, the audit noted that the embassy paid $7,328 in October 2016 for the catering and venue for Ministry of Education meetings, but were not reimbursed the funds.

“We were informed that despite receiving a copy of the appropriation transfer warrant number 338-002, dated October 21 2016, the funds were not received by the embassy and remains outstanding,” the auditor general wrote.

“We recommend that the funds be reimbursed to the embassy’s operation account.”

 

Education Allowance

The embassy, on behalf of the government which pays for school fees, made payments for education allowances totaling $279,661 between August 2013 and August 2018, the audit notes.

However, the embassy did not receive any receipts to verify payments to the schools.

The auditor general recommended that all supporting documents be provided to verify payments.

It said the petty cash was satisfactorily maintained and funds wired to facilitate the operation of the embassy were verified.

As of May 31, 2018, the embassy’s operation account had $154,214; the chequing account, $98.82; and the special function account, $331.

 

Repair

At the time of the review the embassy was unoccupied and needed over $200,000 worth of repairs, according to the auditor general.

The auditor general recommended that these urgent repairs be addressed immediately to avoid further deterioration and “associated risk of injury in the workplace”.

The report added that the computers and operating system in the embassy, as well as the Wi-Fi network needed upgrading, as it was “open and vulnerable to attacks”.

Photos of the estate located on 2220 Massachusetts Avenue, which were attached to the report, showed missing tiles in various rooms, damaged floorboards; stained walls and curtains; as well as water damaged to the ceiling.

According to the auditor general, the review cannot be regarded as a comprehensive statement of all “weaknesses that exist or all improvements that might be made” as the scope of work did not involve a detailed audit.