Audit Office closes in on agriculture project

The Samoa Agriculture Competitiveness Enhancement Project (SACEP) has come under the radar of the Audit Office.

The Audit Office has expressed concern at misleading information provided for payments – which were made for projects that didn’t exist or were incomplete. 

Other issues cited include SACEP staff or immediate family members listed as beneficiaries of the programme. 

This was highlighted in the Auditor Report on the SACEP for the period July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2018. The project is funded by the World Bank and is overseen by the Ministry of Agriculture of Fisheries and is mandated to support fruit and vegetable growers and livestock producers to improve their productivity and take greater advantage of market opportunities.

The report was submitted to the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture in the form of a management letter, where the issues are outlined and the management was asked to respond accordingly. 

According to the report, the pre-finance expenditure by the Samoa Government for the SACEP for financial year 2017-2018 amounts to $3.28 million. 

Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries Chief Executive Officer, Tilafono David Hunter, declined to comment when questions were emailed to him.  

“I take it you have a copy of the incomplete Auditor report (management letter) from your sources in Government. Our management responses to be included in the same to clarify and elaborate on the Auditor's findings will be discussed with Ministry of Finance and Audit Office next week before the report is finalised and subjected to normal Government processes. Until then, I cannot answer your questions,” he said. 

The Auditors have categorised the project “high risk”– noting that from their review and analysis of the matching grant programme – they found “some highly important misleading information”, where the payout was released under this project.   

“This misleading information was verified and confirmed by our site visit in Savaii. 

The monitoring of this project is extremely terrible convey for releasing of last tranche but the project is incomplete or it does not exist. 

“Misleading information of photos on the files to release payments is very unacceptable practice and a direct violation of grant terms.” 

The report cited four families from Falelima, Satupaitea and Iva. 

“For a cattle farmer, there were photos shown of a fence however upon visit there is no cattle fence. However, payment was released based on false misleading photos inside the file, this is an unsuccessful project.” 

The Audit Report cited three other farmers who received funds, yet did not utilize what the funds were allocated for. 

The Auditors recommended a “more vigilant assessment of information provided to claim payments and that on sight for confirmation of these information should be on a regular basis. 

“Providing false information to claim payments should face severe penalties for the committed party. “It is against regulations to provide false information to receive grants and at the same time the Ministry should have assesses this information with example site visits to confirm its truth before committing payments,” says the Auditors Report. 

Regarding the issue of conflict of interest, the Auditors pointed out the list of beneficiaries of S.A.C.E.P. and they conducted a full site visit to all of their projects. 

“It was during these visits and review of the given list we noted one S.A.C.E.P. employee as one of the beneficiaries under the cattle farm category. 

“She is employed at the time as project officer for S.A.C.E.P. and therefore presents an absolute conflict of interest. She risks her position in the Ministry to accommodate and applying under the project.” 

Also in the same list another beneficiary is the father of the portfolio manager for S.A.C.E.P. “This is also a risk of position in the Ministry to benefit his own interest or that of his immediate relative which also presents a definite conflict of interest. 

The Auditors recommended that M.A.F. should ensure their employees are aware of their Conflict of Interest Policy to disclose any and all conflicts that may arise. 

“It should be made clear those conflicts of interest that go undeclared means that code of conduct for public servant is breached.” 

Other issues highlighted by the Auditors are the beneficiaries who are non-compliance with requirements of the grant such as lost receipts and using items bought from grants for personal use, among others issues. 

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