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Ministry considering public funds oversight role

The Ministry of Finance (MOF) is considering having oversight of public trust monies in a bid to reduce the risk of misappropriation.

So says the Ministry of Finance CEO, Leasiosiofa’asisina Oscar Malielegaoi, in response to questions from the Samoa Observer. 

This newspaper sought comments from the Ministry following the launching of a number of investigations last year into misappropriation allegations involving staff at Government ministries, including the Ministry of Courts and Courts Administration (M.J.C.A.).

“To address the lapses within the departments our Ministry (in liaison with relevant Government authorities) is considering further legislative, administrative and policy changes, which would mean our Ministry having more hands on or immediate involvement in the handling of public funds, including any trust monies and ensuring compliance of accountable officers within each department,” Leasiosio said. 

According to Leasiosio, any irregularity involving public finances are dealt with in accordance with the investigation process undertaken by the Ministry. 

“Where an irregularity has implication on the Code of Conduct, the matter is referred to the Public Service Commission and if involving an alleged crime, the matter is referred to the Ministry of Police for criminal investigations and criminal proceedings as the case may be.”

The C.E.O. said irregularities can be lodged at the M.O.F. by a public servant or member of the public. 

“Other irregularities are discovered during internal audit spot checks, payment clearance, audit inspections, evaluation reports, media reports, and a report by a staff member or otherwise,” explained the C.E.O.

Regarding trust accounts, Leasiosio said in accordance with the Public Finance Management Act 2001 and trust funds held in these accounts, are dealt with separately from public money. 

He said in order to have a trust account, a formal request have to be submitted from the department including relevant information to open an account. 

“To manage the use of a trust account/trust monies, it is required that payments are properly approved and authorised made only by cheque and drawn only from it signed by the authorised signatories. 

"In addition, department’s operation trust accounts are required to maintain cashbooks, which are reconciled at the end of each month and later forwarded to our Ministry.” 

The C.E.O. clarified that the referral of the cashbooks from the M.J.C.A. to the M.O.F. brought to light the lapses and discrepancies in transactions which led to the launching of the investigation.

“So whilst our Ministry has the overall management role, each trust account established and its daily operations are the immediate responsibilities of the relevant department.” 

In going forward, Leasiosio said the current processes and requirements relating to irregularities and handling of trust accounts are well established, but the problem lies with those who are entrusted to implement these processes and compliance.  

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