12 July 2018

Liberia - New Audit Report Exposes Gross Financial Malpractices At Gender Ministry

Monrovia — The Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection (MGCSP) under the regime of former Minister Julia Duncan-Cassel, was involved in several financial malpractices causing the government to loss thousands of United States dollars, according to recent findings from the General Auditing Commission (GAC).

The audit covered July 1, 2014 to January 31, 2018, focusing on the payroll of the Ministry.

Auditors uncovered that there were disbursements to nonemployees, inconsistency in salary/allowance, multiple salaries/allowances paid to single account, underpayment of employees, amongst others.

Payments to Non-employee's Account

The GAC audit revealed that the Ministry made payments in the amount of US$26,899.78 to a non-employee's account on behalf of multiple employees.

"It was observed during the fiscal years under audit (July 1, 2016 - June 30, 2017) that allowance payments in the aggregate of US$26,899.78 were disbursed to a single Ecobank account (011314470396301) owned by Mr. Thomas Gbukpa who appears not be on the Ministry's personnel listing on behalf of multiple employees/individuals," the audit report exposed.

In response to the GAC, former Minister Cassel, according to the report, insisted that Thomas Gbukpa was a in the employ of the Ministry at the time the disbursements were made.

She disclosed that the monies paid to his account were intended for employees of the Ministry in the counties for whom he served as a Liason Officer. "The Ministry decided to make a bulk payment in the name of Gbukpa for onward payments to these staffers due to numerous complaints regarding ineffectiveness and unnecessary bureaucracy that has characterized bank systems in the counties," she said.

However, the Ministry's Comptroller informed the GAC that the Finance Division of the Ministry does not have any record showing that diverse persons' salary payments were made to a single account.

The Ministry's management which is responsible for the preparation of payroll concluded that there are no records at the Ministry that show that Thomas Gbukpa was an employee of the Ministry. The Management also requested the GAC to invite the heads of the Accounting Services Unit (ASU) at the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP), the management of Ecobank Liberia Limited and the former Deputy Minister for Administration, Peter G. Roberts and Mr. Barcolleh Poronpyea to provide explanation about how Thomas Gbukpa account number surfaced on the Ministry of Gender's payroll.

The Auditor General, however, surmised that contrary to former minister Cassel's assertion, the Ministry management's conclusion correctly affirms that there is no record to substantiate that Thomas Gbukpa was an employee. "Also, the absence of payment receipts to corroborate that payments were channeled through Mr. Gbukpa's account to the staff in the counties who had difficulty receiving their pay through the banks closet to them raises doubt about the authenticity of the former minister and assistant HR director's declarations," the Auditor General noted.

Allowance/Salary Discrepancies

The audit has established that there were no established institutional standards or criteria to guide how general allowances were distributed. It was further observed that, according to the report, allowances were distributed at the discretion of the Minister with noticeable variations in the allowance amount made to employees occupying similar positions.

The risk involved with this is that management's failure to craft and implement a policy that guides the allotment of general allowance could lead to conflict of interest and misapplication of government's scare resources.

For example, the audit established that Rebecca Baba, Director, earned L$2,000 as general allowance; Victoria W. Zaway Director, L$1,500; Donis Gayflor, Director IT, L$2,000; Robert Taylor, Director, L$1,000 and Joseph Monibah, Act. Director, L$1,000.00.

The Ministry's management in response to GAC's inquiry on the discrepancies said, prior to December 1, 2016, the reform period, General Allowances payments were solely at the discretion of the Minister. The basis of management's review for the payment of allowances then were subject to the beneficiary being an employee and providing service for the Ministry and listed on the personnel listing. "After the reform, there were salaries discrepancies among individuals with the same title. E.g. Directors were required to earn US$2,000, however, some Directors earned US$1,000 due to either low experience or qualifications or they did not go through the reform for that position and were acting in those positions," the management told the GAC.

Former Minister Cassel's response was no different from the management's response.

However, the GAC noted that there's no evidence to support the former minister and the management's assertions.

"The absence of policies and procedures to govern the distribution of allowances and allowing the Minster to determine what amount an individual receives undermines the committee of Supporting Organization of the Treadway Commission (COSO) control framework on control activities and could lead to waste, abuse and conflict of interest," the Auditor General noted.

Ghost Names

A total amount of L$282,746.00 were paid to 25 persons as salary from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2016. These recipients were not reflected on the personnel listing but were on the payroll for the period.

The ministry's management blamed these variances on the processing time associated with the Civil Service Agency (CSA) Personnel Action Notice (PAN) preparation.

The management said, the ministry receives the payrolls months after payment are made and the updating of personnel listing can be done after the final approval and submission of the PAN by CSA.

They, however, noted that it was an oversight that the head of the Human Resource Department did not follow up to ensure personnel listing was promptly reconciled with payrolls.

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