City Hall accountant, acting Treasurer voice concerns over financial management

A long serving accountant and the acting Treasurer yesterday both voiced their dissatisfaction with some processes at the Mayor and City Council (M&CC) and one of them said there is some of amount of mismanagement.

The two officers from City Hall’s accounts department were at the time testifying before the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the administration and operations of the M&CC.

Accountant Edwana Miller and acting City Treasurer John Douglas were taken through rigorous questioning on accounting procedures by retired judge Cecil Kennard, who is leading the CoI, at the Critchlow Labour College.

Miller, who was been working at the M&CC for over two decades, was questioned first on the management and procedures that are followed by the accounts department.

She was first questioned on whether she is privy to knowledge of the city’s income and expenses and whether she was aware of the financial situation of her employer at the moment. She said, “yes, partially” but explained that she did not have any specific figures to give.

A follow-up question on whether there is some amount of mismanagement and whether as an accounting professional she was satisfied with the accounting practices at the M&CC, saw her tell the former judge that she is now satisfied that certain measures must be put in place to control income and expenses and restated her opinion that there is some amount of mismanagement.

She then went on to grade the overall management of the city, which she gave five out of 10 but she added that they try to do their best.

Douglas was also questioned about his knowledge of the income and expenses of the city.

“…Currently there’s a shortfall of income and expenditure and that’s both budget and actual expended… Based on my knowledge, one should not have a shortfall. What I am saying is that when you are preparing a budget, one should not prepare a budget with a shortfall. Based on my professional knowledge, if you are going to prepare a budget – a plan for the next 12 months in a financial year – when you do a budget, whatever amount of revenue you have, you should match it to expenditure but it should not exceed the amount of revenues… a budget should never be in a deficit,” Douglas explained, while stating that the current financial situation at City Hall is unhealthy.

When the same question was posed to Miller, she also noted that the generated revenues through rates and taxes cannot adequately take care of the expenditures of City Hall.

Douglas has been the acting City Treasurer from August 1st, due to the City Treasurer Ron McAlman being away on sick leave since March. Prior to August, Deputy Town Clerk Sharon Harry acted as the City Treasurer.

He was also questioned about the auditing processes and whether he was satisfied, to which he explained that there is an issue of lack of information. “I am not satisfied with it as a professional in the field. There are systems in place but information is not provided in a timely manner. I do know the importance of auditors and hence I am not satisfied,” he said.

In terms of the procedures pertaining to the payment of vouchers going through the department, Miller was questioned on whether monies were spent without the required approval in the past, to which she said yes, while explaining that sometimes they would not follow all the stages before payments.

However, when the same question was posed to Douglas, he explained that he is satisfied with that process. When further questions were posed about whether the rules were followed, he said, “…the rules are generally followed.”

Elaborating, he explained that eight out of 10 times payments would pass through the necessary procedures unless there are emergencies, where spending must be done immediately and having the necessary authorisation would delay the response. “Sometimes we are not able to carry through the full procedure due to people not being available at the time,” he said.

However, on the contrary, Miller related that she had refused to sign documents “that did not state what it is supposed to state in the past” and she speculated that her forthright stance might be the reason for the M&CC’s decision to second her from the Accounts Department to the Markets Department earlier in this year.

However, she noted that her wages have not changed but her responsibilities have decreased.

The woman also said that it was explained to her that a new project would be commencing soon, which was the main reason for her transfer.

Douglas was also questioned about City Hall’s debts and admitted that they currently owe the two waste disposal services, Puran Brothers and Cevons Waste Management, around $150 million, which was revealed on Monday by representatives of the two companies. Some $20 million is also owned to Dartmouth Skips for payments for waste disposal services.

However, he pointed out that lawfully they only owe for one month, which is around $35 million, since the contract stipulates that they have a grace period of 90 days (three months) to make payments. “Currently we are over by four months, so legally speaking we are off by one month,” he said.

He also touched on the other debts, which he said currently stands at billions, especially for the non-payments of rates and taxes. He said his department has been actively trying to address the situation as they have changed their strategy from sending defaulters notices and orders, but to invite them to sit with the relevant persons at the M&CC to have discussions on the way forward.

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