One $2,000 government cheque helped to buy a tenor saxophone. Another $2,000 was given as aid to a public servant who had been removed from duty. A competitor in a hair show got a $500 sponsorship at taxpayer expense, while three weeks earlier a legislator approved a request for $502.30 to buy “tickets for models at a car show.”
Government funds also paid for late mortgage payments, bought lingerie and funded a trip to Grenada to spread the Gospel.
In another case, a legislator agreed to use public funds to help a resident pay a mortgage despite being in a “private business relationship” with the resident, according to an audit of the House of Assembly’s Assistance Grants Programme.
The programme, which provides elected representatives with an annual allocation to disburse money to their constituents, paid for the above purchases, in addition to hundreds of others that were requested for economic hardship aid, educational assistance, district expenses and other uses.
An audit completed in May 2009 by the then-Internal Audit Unit called the guidelines that HOA members crafted to regulate the programme “grossly inadequate.”
“Initially intended to finance minor development projects, the Assistance Grants Programme has evolved over the years into an unorganised welfare system with little accountability, weak control and minimal enforcement of requirements,” the report stated.
More than $5.1 million in assistance was disbursed to residents between 2006 and 2008 under the programme, according to the audit report.
The report recommended a complete overhaul of the guidelines to strengthen the programme’s internal controls and to increase transparency and consistency. It also suggested replacing rules that are “difficult to enforce, contradictory, and vague in most instances.”
More than two years later, however, none of the recommendations have been implemented, according to Deputy Financial Secretary Wendell Gaskin, who heads the Internal Audit Department. (The IAU was renamed and its powers were strengthened under legislation passed in February.)
See the Oct. 27, 2011 edition for full coverage.