Nearly $600,000 to relocate chancery office in Canada

Over $130,000 worth of repairs made to residence

NASSAU, BAHAMAS – The cost of renovations and retrofitting of the new office space to house the chancery of the Bahamas High Commission in Canada in November 2017 cost taxpayers nearly $600,000, according to an auditor general’s report.

The review of the commission’s accounts, completed by Auditor General Terrance Bastian, was conducted in October 28, 2018.

The Chancery Office moved from 50 O’Connor Street Suite 1313, Ottawa, to 99 Bank Street, Suite 415, Ottawa.

The report indicated that the cost associated with retrofitting the new office space totaled $597,686.26 CAD — approximately $457,179 in U.S. currency.

Information on the company or companies that carried out the retrofitting work or the specific works carried out was not included in the report.

However, a list of 21 payments was documented between March 14, 2017 and May 10, 2018 for the project.

One payment on September 18, 2017, totaled $433,148.86 CAD.

Another payment on November 24, 2017, was for $60,970.44, while a third was for $49,210.06 on April 20, 2017.

The remaining payments ranged from $100 to over $20,000.

Bastian noted that during a previous audit on October 6, 2015, the residence of the high commissioner, was in need of repairs due to deterioration.

It said since that time, repairs were completed on the roof, doors and windows at a cost of $130,964.20.

Those repairs were carried out between October 29, 2015 and July 21, 2017.

“Quotes have already been obtain to change the flooring, repair the kitchen, pool and landscaping of the property,” auditors said.

“We recommend that the repairs be completed as soon as possible to prevent any further damage to the residence.”

Payments

The auditor general said during the review, some payment vouchers reviewed were “vague” and did not have “sufficient information to justify payment”.

A review of the payroll found that an officer was paid $2,910.97 CAD for overtime in excess of 30 hours in December 2017.

“We recommend that the provision of general orders No. 1275, which states that no government servants, qualified for overtime payments, shall receive such payments in respect of periods in excess of 35 hours in any one month unless they are authorized by the Director of Public Personnel.

“Such payments will not normally be approved unless they relate to periods worked in connection with an emergency.

“Authorization for overtime in excess of 35 hours has now been delegated to permanent secretaries in respective ministries.

“The officer should receive time off in lieu of overtime exceeding 35 hours.”

Auditors said a review of the accounting records showed that some payment vouchers did not have the necessary supporting documents attached to justify payments.

Three payments were underscored totaling $13,982.47: a $1,832.36 payment on August 3, 2016 for July; a $7,3216.02 payment on September 7, 2016, and a third payment of $4,834.09 on January 6, 2017.

In the report, auditors acknowledged that the concern related to the payments had been addressed and supporting documents were provided for the payment vouchers.

The auditor general recommended that management continue to ensure that all relevant information be attached to payment vouchers to facilitate the audit trail.

Overspend

The Cabinet Office approves funds facilitated by the Treasury to defray the cost of Independence celebrations for each overseas office.

In 2017, the Bahamas High Commission in Canada spent $14,317.51 — more than double the amount approved and transferred by the Cabinet Office.

The Cabinet Office approved and transferred $7,000 for the Independence celebration that year.

The High Commissioner surpassed its budget for the Independence celebration by $944 the following year.

While the Cabinet Office approved and transferred $7,000 that year, the High Commission spent $7,944.14 on the celebration that year.

“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 in a timely manner to the various missions and embassies,” auditors said.

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

The high commission collected a total of $36,036.06 in 2017/2018, a sight decrease over the $37,420 collected in the previous fiscal year.

“We were informed that the reason for the decrease in revenue is attributed mostly to foreign nationals who were given exemption to pay visa fees at the Consular Division upon arrival in Nassau,” auditors said.

“We are not assured that this is an efficient and effective in which to collect these visa fees.

“We recommend that consideration be given for applicants to apply for visa online before travel or to collect visa fees upon arrival at the airport.”

The high commission maintains three accounts; a Canadian operation account in CAD, a U.S. operation account in U.S. currency and a revenue account in CAD.

The balance of those accounts as of October 29, 2018, was $75,977.06, $263,581.63 and $4,770 respectively.

The commission has 12 staff.

H.E. Alvin Smith was appointed as high commissioner with effect December 2017.