Audit inquiry over boxing banners a beat-up, says Minister

The spending of over $12,000 in taxpayer funds on banners supporting former heavyweight boxing champion, Lupesoliai Laaulialemalieltoa Joseph Parker, has come under scrutiny of the Controller and Auditor General.

The Controller and Auditor General, Fuimaono Afele Taimalelagi, highlighted the expenditure in his recently obtained pre-Audit Report for February 2017.

The Auditor found a total of $12,686.74 was paid for 10 banners welcoming of Joseph Parker by the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture (M.E.S.C.). 

“[This expense] was charged under the sector output of the Ministry of Education,” the report, which was recently tabled in Parliament, found. 

The Auditor also uncovered that the quotes for the banners were only requested from suppliers “after” the date of the event. 

In the Audit Report, the Ministry's management responded to the report by saying the payments were based on Ministerial instructions. 

Minister Loau Keneti Sio said that as sports was under his portfolio, it was only fitting to charge the banners to M.E.S.C.

“At the time, the [World Boxing Organisation] Champion was coming to Samoa and we had to welcome him with a bang and in doing that we ordered those banners," he said.

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He said the banners were necessary as a sign of respect and pride that a son of Samoa had returned home to celebrate with his people. 

Asked about the banner hanging at his family guest house in Faleula, the Minister said that banner was not purchased by the Ministry. 

“I can assure you that banner was purchased by my family to welcome this son of Samoa,” said Loau. 

Asked why the banners' quotes were only requested afterwards, the Minister said he was unaware that was the case. 

“The staff know the process when purchasing items. It is not my job to place those orders; I gave the directive and there are policies in place that should have been followed,” said Loau. 

The relevant excerpt from the report is included verbatim below: 

1. Inadequate documentation such as missing supporting documents, no justification of long-outstanding invoices, and invoices received before issue of purchase orders. Management response: Ministry of Finance will look at its Payment Policy to address these issues.

 2. Catering expenses were not charged under the correct Ministerial support or Chief Executive Officer (CEO) outputs as per Cabinet directive FK (09)20, effective on 3rd June 2009. Management response: Catering budget is allocated to Minister and CEO outputs; this does not stop the management from operating their own budget as they see fit.

3. Payment of 10 banners worth $12,686.74 for the welcoming of Joseph Parker was charged under the Sector Output of the Ministry of Education. In addition, quotes were requested from suppliers after the date of the event. Management response: Ad hoc payments like these are based on Ministerial instructions, or a government initiative.

4. No Tenders Board approval for a $59,303 payment. This exceeded $50,000 threshold per the Government’s B4 Schedule. Management response: Recommendation has been noted. 

5. There were errors and miscalculations on some payment batches, including the failure to deduct withholding tax. Management response: The issue has been noted and will address through additional training for Ministries.

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