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Auditor uncovers “inappropriate expenses” at Public Trust Office

The Controller and Auditor General, Fuimaono Afele Taimalelagi, has uncovered what he described as “inappropriate expenses” funded from the budget of the Public Trust Office (P.T.O.).

The expenses include an end of year function that cost $6,000, hampers for the Minister and members of the Board of Directors as well as a gift of $2,000 for the Public Trustee while he was on sick leave.

The “inappropriate expenses” were highlighted in Fuimaono’s Interim Audit report for the Public Trust office for the period 1 July 2015 – 29 February 2016.

It is contained in the Report of the Controller and Auditor General to the Legislative Assembly, which has been tabled in Parliament.

The Public Trustee is Leaupepe Matautia Ropati. Attempts by the Samoa Observer to contact him for a comment since Friday last week were unsuccessful.

On Tuesday, the reporter was referred to the Assistant Public Trustee, Mao Paniani Va’a, who asked that the queries be sent via email. The email was sent on Tuesday afternoon. It has not been responded to.

In the Audit report however, the Auditor General found a number of issues within the Public Trust Office.

Some of the most serious issues involved the Public Trustee, whom the Auditor General found had “no signed employment contract.”  

“The Public Trustee’s untaken annual leave were capitalized when they were due, that is, they were not forfeited but paid out in cash instead to the Public Trustee,” the report reads.

“This was not in compliance with government’s policies for contractual staff. In addition, payment of an employee’s benefit without a legal binding document is illegal.”

But that was not all in relation to the Public Trustee’s leave.

“The Public Trustee leave records indicates that he has taken 49 days as special leave, yet only 10 days were properly approved by Cabinet,” the report reads.

“The other 39 days special leave were utilized without approval from Cabinet, while the Public Trustee received his normal salary and with no signed employment contract in place.”

According to the Auditor report, when the P.T.O. was asked to explain, they claimed that the “special leave days were issued upon seeking advice from the Public Service Commission.”

The following is what Audit report said about P.T.O. verbatim. P.T.O’s responses contained in the Audit report are also noted for every point raised.

 Public Trust Office – Interim Audit for the 

period 1 July 2015 – 29 February 2016 

1. Petty cash vouchers did not have clear payment descriptions and lacked supporting documentation.

- P.T.O. said receipts cannot be issued for several payments, but payment descriptions can be made and verified by management.

 2. Incorrect treatment of non-taxable expenses overstating tax portion to be paid by P.T.O, resulting in understatement of expenses.

- P.T.O. has addressed the issue.

 3. Withholding tax of 10% on services rendered to the Public Trust Office was never actioned which is not in compliance with relevant tax legislation.

- P.T.O. has implemented this for payments, where relevant, commencing July 2016.

 

4. Several cash cheques were approved and issued. The audit is concerned with the risk associated with this practice as cheques for official purposes should be made payable to the Public Trustee or Assistant Public Trustee.

- P.T.O. has noted the issue.

 5. There were inappropriate expenses being funded from the office budget.

  • The office end-of-year function costing more than $6,000 was fully funded by the Office as well as the purchasing of hampers for the Minister, Associate Minister and Board of Directors.
  • Payment of monetary gift of $2,000 to the Public Trustee while he was on sick leave.
  • Spending of $400 to purchase lunches for Board of Directors meeting.

- P.T.O has noted the issue.

 6. There were vouchers with missing receipts and some with no receipts at all to verify the acquitted amount. Cash cheques of $500 were cashed twice or three times a month for refilling fuel of all three office vehicles.

- P.T.O. maintains that receipts were attached to the relevant payment vouchers given to audit.

 7. Motor vehicle PTO01 had tinted windows and additional accessories prohibited under Cabinet Directive F.K.(13)17 Section 3.5, version iii.

- P.T.O. explained this was done for safety purposes as well as cost saving purposes in terms of petrol usage for reduced air condition usage.

 

8. Office vehicles were not labelled in accordance with government directives for vehicles to be labelled with the name of respective ministry or corporation.

- P.T.O. has addressed the issue.

 9. The Human Resources (HR) policies currently used by the Public Trust Office was approved in December 2009 by the then Board of Directors. Public sector policies from various Cabinet directives which were also communicated through the Ministry of Public Enterprises circular memorandums have yet to be incorporated into these policies.

- P.T.O. has noted the issue for action.

 10. The Public Trustee’s untaken annual leave were capitalized when they were due, that is, they were not forfeited but paid out in cash instead to the Public Trustee. This was not in compliance with government’s policies for contractual staff. In addition, payment of an employee’s benefit without a legal binding document is illegal.

- P.T.O. has noted the recommendation but explained that this payment was made pursuant to Section 41 of the Labour and Employment Relations Act 2013 [(sub-sections (1) and (2)].71 

11. The Public Trustee leave records indicates that he has taken 49 days as special leave, yet only 10 days were properly approved by Cabinet. The other 39 days special leave were utilized without approval from the Cabinet, while the Public Trustee received his normal salary and with no signed employment contract in place.

 - P.T.O. explained that these special leave days were issued upon seeking advice from the Public Service Commission.

 

12. A personal file of one of the employees has not been accurately updated with relevant information regarding the employment history of the employee within the Public Trust Office which called in to question his terms of employment but could not be verified without any proper documentation.

- P.T.O. has addressed the issue.

 13. There were no signed employment contracts in place for both Public Trustee and Assistant Public Trustee.

- P.T.O. said it will follow up with the Attorney General’s Office regarding Employment Contracts for the Public Trustee and Assistant Public Trustee.

 

 

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