Agriculture programme mostly false: Auditor
A $3.2 million programme financing projects for improving Samoan agriculture was mostly dispensed to projects based on false evidence and should be investigated for possible criminal breaches, an Auditor’s report has found.
The Samoa Agriculture Competitiveness Enhancement Project (S.A.C.E.P.) came under investigation by the Controller and Auditor General, Fuimaono Afele Taimalelagi, for suspicions that it was making payments for projects that did not exist.
The World Bank funded programme provided payments to support projects undertaken by fruit and vegetable growers and livestock producers to improve their productivity.
But it can be revealed an audit on the programme, based on projects it funded between 2017 and 2018, found the majority of project sites “were falsely represented”.
“Audit site inspections found that most of these sites were falsely represented as per photos submitted in their applications, as they were not the actual progress of the projects,” the Auditor found.
The Audit report was written in June 2019 but only tabled before Parliament in March by Auditor Fuimaono this year.
Its complete findings can now be revealed.
According to the report, the pre-finance expenditure by the Samoa Government on S.A.C.E.P for the 2017-2018 Financial Year amounted to $3.28 million.
The Audit Report recommended the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries should undertake regular site visits to ensure the integrity of the programme. But it also recommended an investigation be carried out on whether false information was provided “in light of the Crimes Act 2013”.
The report found further breaches of programme policy including projects noted on file as having been completed with funds disbursed to the applicant despite site visits showing they had not been.
It further noted that a project requirement that only one household receive funding had been breached in instances where couples had applied for two separate projects.
The Auditor also discovered that a number of grant beneficiaries were confirmed to have possible conflict of interest given close relations with S.A.C.E.P. project officers.
“Even one of the staff for the S.A.C.E.P. project was also a beneficiary. As well as the father of one of the senior officials involved in the project,” the report found.
Given a chance to respond to the allegation, the Ministry noted that it had committed to improving the project processes and that several of the failings were due to circumstances beyond their control.
But the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries Chief Executive Officer, Tilafono David Hunter, did not immediately respond to questions on Friday evening.
The relevant section of the report is excerpted in full below.
4.13 Samoa Agricultural Competitiveness Enhancement Project (SACEP) (IDA Credit No 50890 and Grant No TF 12179) 1 July 2017 – 30June 2018
1. Audit site inspections found that most of these sites were falsely represented as per photos submitted in their applications, as they were not the actual progress of the projects. Audit recommended regular visits should be done by the ministry as well as carrying out an investigation for providing false information in light of the Crimes Act 2013. The Ministry responded that some of these circumstances were outside of their control.
2. We also found various projects were noted to be completed on file, however, site visits confirmed they were not despite the funding being already disbursed to that particular applicant.
3. Despite the Matching Grant Project requiring that only one household is allowed to [receive] funding, we found that couples were applying for two separate projects, therefore disregarding the policy for disbursement of funds. Management responded that they are reviewing their processes for improvement.
4. Audit found communication from the Ministry and the applicants as one of the reasons alluded to by the applicants for the delay in completing their projects.
5. Sustainability of completed projects appears to be a questionable aspect of the project as [the] audit found a number of completed projects that did not last beyond their timeline as per business plan submitted for funding.
6. We found a number of beneficiaries of the grant were confirmed to have possible conflict of interest given close relations with SACEP project officers. Even one of the staff for the SACEP project was also a beneficiary. As well as the father of one of the senior officials involved in the project.
7. It is the third year now that the Audit Office has [...] raised the issue about unsigned employment contracts for associated contract officers. Management will work on it.
8. Audit noted an incomplete asset register in place for the Project. We also found assets that were not properly labelled.