#TheBahamas, May 18, 2022 – During a Communication to the House of Assembly, by the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance the Hon. Philip Davis, filing an audit
In his report on the operations of the National Food Distribution Task Force and the National Food Distribution Program on May 16, 2022, he said his government had “still found it difficult to get real answers” on the operations.
“In the case of the food program, requests for credible documentation of how $53 million was spent have not been met. received a response,” Prime Minister Davis said. “To be clear, documents have been provided, but they are not documents that answer the most important questions asked.”
He continued: “To use an analogy, if someone asks, ‘How much did your car cost? to the questioner.
“In the case of the food program, some documents have been presented, but they do not provide answers to the questions of the Bahamian people.”
Prime Minister Davis said the 138-page audit report “makes surprising reading”.
“In the general conclusions of the audit report, 18 categories of major deficiencies were noted,” he said. “These ranged from a general lack of record keeping and widespread inconsistencies regarding the sums of money handled, to a complete lack of minutes of meetings, agreements and actions.”
“In other words, although tens of millions of Bahamian people’s dollars were spent, even the most basic safeguards were not in place,” he added. “A government that has talked at length about transparency and at every opportunity has failed to perform the most basic oversight of a major government initiative.”
Prime Minister Davis said the audit was stunning in documenting “government failures” in establishing reporting and monitoring protocols, or internal controls. He noted that the Working Group could not provide the auditors with information that should already have been completed and readily available.
“Even where information was provided, only aggregate totals were offered, without any of the supporting documentation that would be essential to corroborate the figures,” he said. “There is no backup provided: no contract, no check, no receipt and no bank statement to back up the information. No proof, in other words.
“It should also be noted that some organizations concerned have always refused to provide any information,” he added.
Prime Minister Davis stressed that, given the sums of money involved, “the deficiencies are breathtaking”.
“Public officials had no control over the spending of funds,” he said. “Spending of millions of dollars remains unexplained and undocumented.
“No audited financial statements were provided, so the information provided by the NGOs cannot be confirmed.”
He added: “The information dashboards presented by the working group did not correspond to the information provided by the NGOs. So, for example, just to emphasize the point, if the
The task force says they gave $100,000 to an NGO, and the NGO says they only got $80,000, what happened to the difference? »
“In fact, many cases have been identified where relevant NGOs have not accounted for the total amount of funds received from the government,” Prime Minister Davis continued. “As I said in the mid-year budget, we discovered $2 million that was in an NGO account. I am happy to say that the money was then recovered for the Bahamian taxpayer. Are there millions more that remain inactive on other accounts? »
Prime Minister Davis noted that there was no consistent system of record keeping at the task force or NGO level; and it just wasn’t believable that from May 2020 to October 2021 they were too busy to keep proper records.
“And some of the records that have been preserved raise even bigger questions. Why were such exorbitant fees paid for certain services? ” he added.
Prime Minister Davis gave the example of a restaurant being paid $6 per box for the delivery of each food parcel. That, he noted, amounted to about $50,000 a month.
“Why did they pay $6 to deliver just one package of corned beef, flour, rice and other basics that they delivered to needy families?” he said. “The delivery cost would have been more than the food itself.
“And to date, despite numerous requests, two NGOs have still not provided any information and together they have received more than 10 million dollars.
“10 million dollars of the Bahamian people’s money just disappeared.”
Prime Minister Davis also called on those who knew the underlying facts to come forward. Those who have not provided answers and evidence still have the opportunity – and the obligation – to do so, he added.
“We are not prejudging the circumstances that we have uncovered,” he said. “We can’t say for sure if we’re dealing with jaw-dropping incompetence…or something considerably worse.
“For now, I encourage the Bahamian people to read the audit report for themselves.”
CAPTION OF PHOTOS: Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, the Hon. Philip Davis speaks during a speech in the House of Assembly, tabling an audit report into the operations of the National Food Distribution Task Force and the National Food Distribution Programme, May 16, 2022.
(BIS Photos/Ulric Woodside)