After the declaration of a State of Public Emergency (SOPE) on 25 March 2020, the government developed a COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Plan (PRP), and the Ministry of Infrastructure Development (MID) played a key role in this plan.
To ensure the plan achieved its objectives, the MID was allocated $13.3 million dollars out of a total identified funding of $167,328,248 overseen by a multi-agency Oversight Committee Chaired by the Secretary to Cabinet.
The MID was allocated the funds purposely to maintain and improve facilities and other refurbishments under the SOPE.
The Ministry also received $7.3 million dollars to charter ships to repatriate people from Honiara back to their home provinces.
“The objective of the audit into these disaster relief funds was to assess whether the Ministry managed COVID-19 procurements in accordance with relevant laws, policies, and regulations of Solomon Islands Government,” the report highlighted.
The report stated that whilst there was added pressure to accelerate normal procurement processes in emergency situations, public funds should be protected and internal control measures protected and applied and must not be discarded.
OAG finds that some transactions expedited under the procurements were not in compliance with the relevant financial requirements. The Audit uncovered that a procurement worth $2.5 million dollars did not even contain a payment voucher to show who and what the money was for.
The audit further finds that tendering and awarding of contracts including the failure to implement the required competitive quotation/tendering process without the triggering of the appropriate waiver is a disregard for due processes.
The audit also identifies that the MID was committing procurements without authorized purchase requisition and engaged businesses to undertake complex construction works and refurbishments without detailed specifications or contracts.
Not only that but the Ministry was also found to be failing to maintain adequate supporting documentation for transactions.
It is worth noting that the identification of these deficiencies in a relatively small sample indicates that internal controls cannot be relied upon for best-value-for-money procurement practices, let alone the possibility of conflict of interest and the misappropriation of public funds.
The audit further uncovered that the MID was unable to provide records associated with some procurement transactions. This was more evident in relation to decision-making processes around what, how and from whom to procure goods and services.
Not only that, but the audit also found that some basic transactional documentation such as purchase requisitions, delivery dockets, and evaluation reports were not in order.
“Compliance checklists which are used to ensure that all controls have been adhered to were also not available for all transactions,” the audit found.
However, when the report was put to the Ministry for comments, MID decided not to say a thing about the findings.