TAB says fuel issue resolved

| 13/02/2009

(CNS): In the wake of the auditor general’s report that raised concerns about mismanagement of public money regarding a fuel reimbursement system at Pedro St James, the CEO of the Tourism Attraction Board (TAB) has said that the problem was resolved and the practice of staff using the Savannah account for their own vehicles stopped long before the AG conducted the investigation, which he notes was requested by the  board.

“The practice of Pedro St. James staff charging gas to Pedro’s account at the Savannah Texaco Starmart for use in their personal vehicles was first discovered by the TAB senior management in January 2007. Following an internal review of the practice, it was determined that it was inadequate and not in keeping with accepted practices within other government agencies,” Gilbert Connolly told CNS.

“The board immediately made the decision in February 2007 to  issue a directive to all Pedro staff to stop the practice of charging gas to the Pedro account and to introduce a more effective and accountable system.”

Connolly explained that the new system requires all fuel purchases to be authorised in advance, with a printed name and signature, as well as an explanation for the purchase. “In May 2007, the TAB introduced a Staff Handbook and Policy Manual which contained an updated and more efficient Mileage Reimbursement Policy and System to deal with any employee who had to use his/her personal vehicle to perform work-related duties,” he added.

Connolly said that the TAB took corrective action to stop the inappropriate practice and to introduce its new Mileage Reimbursement Policy before the auditor general was even asked by the board to conduct an investigation.

“On May 28, 2007 I signed a Letter of Engagement with the auditor general to conduct a special investigation into the fuel charging practice. The main reason for requesting the auditor general to conduct this specialinvestigation was to have an independent body assess the evidence of the case which had been collected and to review the procedure used to charge gas to the Pedro account,” Connolly added.

He noted that the Special Report essentially confirms his own assessment that there was a lack of proper policies and procedures to control the practice by staff to charge gas to the Pedro account and allowed for the possible abuse of the account.

“It is important to note that the Special Report delivered by the auditor general on January 30, 2009 did not find any evidence that fraud was intended or committed by Pedro staff in the charging of gas. Equally important, there were no recommendations for any disciplinary action to be taken against the general manager or any other member of staff involved in this investigation,” Connolly said, adding that it made no suggestions for any specific corrective action be taken to further improve policies and procedures currently in place.

However, Connolly said that a directive has been issued to the general manager to repay the TAB the total amount of CI$3,869.00, which is the amount calculated by the auditor general to be in excess of the Motor Vehicle Allowance he should have received for the period investigated.

“Furthermore, the general manager has been formally reprimanded and served with a written warning for misconduct, which includes a proviso that any repeat of any unauthorised charge of gasoline to the Pedro account by him or his staff will result in the termination of his employment,” Connolly said.

General Manager Carson Ebanks has cooperated with the disciplinary measures imposed and has accepted full responsibility for the inadequate gas charging procedure that was implemented under his management, Connolly said. He added that once the problem was identified the board was proactive and followed proper procedures to resolve the issues and eliminate any further loss to Government.

“Given that the matter was referred to the Auditor General Office, it is unfortunate that the report failed to fully recognize these corrective efforts undertaken by the TAB,” he added, stating that it was regrettable that report’s findings have been sensationalized in the press and by others to reflect negatively on the entire staff at Pedro. “The vast majority of staff at Pedro St. James is hard working and committed to the mission of making Pedro St James a national historical site we can all enjoy and be proud of,” Connolly said.  

Auditor General Dan Duguay released the report to the Legislative Assembly making it a public document on 4 February. Explaining his decision to CNS last week, Duguay said while the sum in question was not a significant amount in terms of overall government spending, it is still public money and the mismanagement of public funds is an issue that cannot be covered up.

“The reason why we decided to make this report public by sending it to the Legislative Assembly is because we believe all public expenditure should be scrutinizedand it is important that the management of public funds is improved upon,” Duguay said. “It is not a large amount but it is an example of how things can be mismanaged and we are trying to emphasis better controls.”

The report found that following the writing off of the company truck in a road accident in 2004 staff members were allowed to fill up on fuel at a company account established at Savannah Texaco. However, they were doing so without necessarily accounting for their use of the fuel and were able to fill up their vehicles with just a signature. During the period when this system of reimbursement was being used fuel costs increased by 177%.

“The process was conducted in a haphazard manner with employees in some instances being given only verbal approval to charge gas and not being required to provide any formal documentation or identification other than a signature at the gas station,” the report states.

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Comments (4)

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  1. Why Ya mean man says:

    If government was to really investigate and resolve the misuse of gasoline we would not have budget problems it has improve some, but this is and area of abuse that nearly every government authority or department would have serious problems with.

  2. Richard Wadd says:

    Magicians use this ‘skill’ to draw your attention away from what is Really Happening during thier Act. 

     It’s called ‘The Art of Distraction’.

     That’s why we believe in Magic … ‘right before your very eyes’.

  3. Anonymous says:

    In response to – Are you kidding me…

    …this is a very generous response from you. Perhaps you do not realize that, when people take from Government they take from everyone on the Island?

    As to the cost of the invetigation… I would consider that that is the fault of the perpetrator, not the fault of the Auditor.

    If someone broke the windows in your house, and you called the police, I think you would likely be disappointed if their response was “Frankly Sir, it would cost us more to come have a look that it would cost you to replace your windows yourself”.

    Maybe you are more generous with everyone else’s money than you are with your own?

  4. Anonymous says:

    Are you kidding me? This strikes me as ridiculous..The millions and millions of dollars that have been wasted over the past few years in this country  is nothing short of tragic and the auditor general is spending time and effort to investigate gas charges?! Could it be that there are no more urgent matters to investigate? How much time and man power did this little exercise cost us. If the Auditor reports are coming down to this, it must be that there is very little wastage left to look in to. Just curious, but who audits the Auditor General?