Government Ministries warned to use in-house lawyers

Government Ministries have been warned to use their legal divisions to negotiate insurance policies on state-owned assets before signing a contract.

The warning was highlighted in the Ministry of Finance’s irregularity report for the Financial Year July 2016 to June 30, 2017.

The report highlights a car crash involving a Ministry of Commerce Industry and Labour (M.C.I.L.)-owned vehicle in April 2017.

The vehicle was written off at the cost of $18,300. An M.C.I.L. report on the matter revealed that the driver – after dropping off Ministry employees – removed the G.P.S. tracking system before going to his residence in Fagaloa.

“The driver of M.C.I.L. 06 (vehicle registration) dropped off staff members working overtime during the weekend. Written statements by staff and report, the last staff member was dropped off at around 4pm after the overtime," the report reads. 

“The driver then went directly to his home at Fagaloa instead of returning to the office to garage the vehicle at the office car park. 

“He [allegedly] removed the G.P.S. tracker before he went to Fagaloa. The matter has been reported to the Ministry of Police.” 

According to the Ministry’s irregularity report, the insurance cover was worth $20,000.

“The insurance company stated that they can only pay full cost of repair on the basis that the Insurance Company will take the vehicle in return as a write off due to repairs exceed half of the sum insured.” 

But the Ministry of Finance has advised M.C.I.L. that all state-owned vehicles remain with the Government, even if a vehicle is written off. 

“The M.O.F. highlighted the importance of ensuring that Ministries go through their legal divisions, when negotiating terms and conditions of all insurance policies for Government assets before consent and approval.

“The responsible person shall remain as a transport officer but not authorised to drive any Government vehicle at any time. Cost of damages may be recovered if it can be proven in court.” 

A Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment  (M.N.R.E. 21) vehicle was on official duty at Savaia-Tai Lefaga when it was hit by a Getz.

“The collision caused damage to the front right side tyre and bumper of the Getz and the rear right side bumper of M.N.R.E.21. The driver of the Getz was taken to the hospital.” 

The police report for this matter stated the government driver is at fault and liable for charges of negligent driving causing injury.

“The M.N.R.E. 21 is insured with an excess fee of $500. The insurance provider will cover 50 per cent of repairs cost while M.N.R.E. cover the other 50 per cent pending the completion of the driver’s court case for negligence driving causing injury.” 

The M.O.F. has recommended that 50 percent repair costs paid by M.N.R.E. will be recovered from the driver through payroll salary deductions on a fortnightly basis until 50 per cent cost had been recovered. 

“The claim from the third party must be referred to the Attorney General’s office for further consideration and any appropriate action regarding government’s liability to them. If a claim is paid out to the third party then it will be an added recovery cost from the responsible driver of M.N.R.E. 21.”

“All authorized drivers of M.N.R.E. must be warned to take extra care when handling government vehicles to prevent accidents and losses to Government.” 

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