Wed | Feb 26, 2020

Auditor general concerned about resource management at justice ministry

Published:Sunday | January 19, 2020 | 12:43 AM
The offices of the Ministry of Justice, Constant Spring Road, Kingston.
The offices of the Ministry of Justice, Constant Spring Road, Kingston.

An analysis of the financial accounts of the Ministry of Justice has revealed that it took an average of 11.4 months to obtain evidence that 98 per cent of outstanding advances were used for the intended purposes, according to Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis.

Noting that the ministry did not implement an effective system for the timely recovery of advances, she said that as at March 2018 there was an outstanding sum of $1.147 million.

“Inadequate monitoring of advances may expose the Government to financial losses where no goods, service or value is provided for the payments made,” said Monroe Ellis in her 2018/2019 annual report tabled in Parliament last week.

The audit also revealed that as at March 31, 2018 the ministry held approximately $86 million on deposit. However, due to challenges experienced with the financial management software, the Ministry did not prepare or submit financial statements to the auditor general and financial secretary in accordance with the financial instructions.

“Consequently, we were unable to confirm that payments were only made based on the respective deposit account balances and for the intended purposes,” the auditor general said.

The report said that the justice ministry acquired fixed assets costing $20.7 million in the 2017/18 financial year. However, the Auditor General’s Department said that it could not verify additions to the various asset types as the ministry did not maintain its master inventory in the manner prescribed by the Government’s guidelines.

It said that they were also unable to confirm the existence of some assets as the ministry did not capture the reference number for invoices other source documents used to update its inventory record.

In addition, fixed assets valued at $3.14 million for the justice centres could not be accounted for as the description on the dispatch records differed from the invoices or the dispatch record was not presented.

The auditor general said the ministry’s failure to maintain appropriate inventory and distribution records may provide opportunities for the misappropriation of fixed assets.

Prior approval

She also said that prior approval of the accounting officer was not provided for the reallocation of $52.3 million of the ministry’s recurrent budget in keeping with the financial instructions.

Monroe Ellis also noted that the accounting officer reallocated $5.65 million to facilitate excess expenditure on activities not allowed by the financial instructions as well as on unapproved activities.

The auditor general said that the Government’s virement policy regarding budgetary adjustments stipulates that an accounting officer is not permitted to reallocate funds to, from and within the classifications for compensation of employees, rental of property and machinery and activity that is not provided for by an Appropriations Act.

Monroe Ellis said the ministry’s failure to adhere to the Government’s guidelines on the reallocation of appropriated funds undermines the transparency and accountability principles of public financial management and exposes the ministry to budget overruns.

The audit also revealed that six vehicles were involved in accidents between June 2016 and October 2018 resulting in repair cost of approximately $1.43 million.

However, the ministry did not provide any evidence that action was taken to determine whether the Government drivers were liable, to allow for the recovery of funds and appropriate disciplinary actions.

Further, contrary to the financial instructions, the accidents were not reported to the financial secretary and auditor general until December 5, 2019.

mcpherse.thompson@gleanerjm.com