The lax security for items purchased for the public sector was highlighted during a Public Accounts Committee (PAC) hearing last week Monday, when it was heard that more than US$18,000 worth of items were purchased and received for the Synthetic Track months before the stores were actually established, and more than US$3,000 worth of that equipment cannot be found.
The missing equipment, a Seiko Track and Field Electronic System and a Starting Gun valued at US$2,985 and US$159, respectively, according to the Auditor General’s 2015 report, were received by Department of Culture, Youth and Sport officials but the items were never entered into the register, Education Ministry Permanent Secretary (PS) Melissa Tucker told the PAC.
Tucker, updating the committee, said that she had received a police report in April stating that there was no evidence to implicate anyone in theft and, therefore, she was in the process of preparing a loss report. Tucker said that the police report she received was passed on to the Auditor General.
“I hope that this is a lesson not only for this ministry, but too many times in the government system there is little or no emphasis placed on stores and the security of billions of dollars of items. We always don’t have staff, we’re not planning ahead. I mean from the time they had put in that request one would have expected that if nothing else was in place the fact that they are purchasing that the department to receive, store and take account of those items would start to take shape,” committee member Minister Volda Lawrence said, while noting that the security and accountability of items bought in various government agencies are not given the priority they ought to be given.
The 2015 Auditor General’s report states that in 2015 a contract for US$18,458, equivalent to $3.847 million, was awarded to procure additional equipment for the Synthetic Track, but at the time of report, there was no evidence that the Seiko Track and Field Electronic System and the Starting Gun were received.
Meanwhile, there was much passing of blame at the hearing on Monday, which PAC Chairman Irfaan Ali referred to as “passing the buck.”
Putting the incident down to “delinquency as it relates to the stores officer,” former PS Alfred King told the PAC that the articles were received in containers by two officers who checked and received the items.
He said that based on the report, all items were received. After this, King said that “Heywood” should have followed up with all the entries required by the stores regulations.
In his defence, Procurement Officer Dennis Heywood said that all the items were received at the track, including the clock and gun, and it was the caretaker who had signed upon its receipt and had taken control of the items.
“Prior to that, there wasn’t a store there. All we were told was go over, check off these things and leave it there for safe keeping,” Heywood stated.
“You know you get the view sometimes listening to the answers it’s passing the buck because when it comes to ensuring everybody’s responsibility is completed, the buck is passed to someone else. It’s a good example for all in the public service to ensure that your end is always tied up properly,” Ali commented.
Ali, stating that he did not think that accurate information was being provided to the PAC, asked that a credible update be provided by the end of the week.
Asked by Lawrence when the stock count and labeling of the items had been done, King said coding and marking were done during May/June 2015 after the stores were completed at the synthetic track.
Lawrence then followed up by asking what had been the length of time between the arrival of the items and the establishment of the stores.
King said that the items had arrived sometime between February and April, 2015, but this information was contradicted by Heywood, who said that the items were received either late in 2014 or early 2015 and the stores at the synthetic track were not established until June/July, after the track’s opening.