Minister of Health defends the integrity of his officers
August 13, 2010
Minister of Health defends the integrity of his officers

by Kenton X. Chance Fri, Aug 13, 2010

Minister of Health and the Environment, Dr. Douglas Slater, on Wednesday defended his staff, although a Special Audit uncovered misappropriation of funds, the absence of internal control, and wastage of resources under the local Cuban Integrated Health Programme (CIHP).{{more}}

“I believe in the integrity of my officers. I know, and they will tell you, that some of the account was not totally appropriate or proper, but it is not that the accounting was done to benefit any individual,” he said on radio.

Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace on Monday described the practices at the Ministry as “downright corruption”.

The CIHP was flagged for audit because of frequent purchases of fast food, the buying of large quantities of computer equipment and supplies and the absence of refunds to the International Airport Development Company (IADC).

The audit found that “a large percentage of the funds” were not used as Parliament decided.

Additionally some CHIP property was not produced for inspection, according to report, obtained by SEARCHLIGHT.

The report said the CIHP circumvented Central Tenders Board Procedures and Ministry of Finance controls and money from the IADC paid rent for apartments for CIHP personnel.

Computer supplies valued $18,471.11 were imported, but were neither charged to the Ministry’s account nor were at the Ministry.

The report said items have been imported for private use under the Minsitry’s concession, resulting in the evasion of tax and would be reported to the Comptroller of Customs and Excise.

Auditors found that large purchases were made at Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) when Cuban health practitioners arrived in the country and even when no officials had come in.

The Ministry feeds the officials for the three days between their arrival here and their receipt of their first stipend.

Between August 21 and 24, 2009, when a Cuban doctor arrived, the CIHP bought $610 worth of KFC meals and bought a further $370 in fast food between November and December 2009, when no Cuban health personnel had come in.

The probe found that $2,925 logged for meals for a workshop was in fact for a party for Cuban health personnel and Ministry officials.

Auditors did not know why $4,000 was spent to charter the MV Bequia Express to transport personnel to Bequia when the government already had a contract with the company for that purpose.

The report noted that $2,200 was spent to upholster the seats of a vehicle but the vehicle had the original seats, which were in good condition.

Twelve tyres were bought in one year for G732 that is used mainly to transport Cuban doctors between Villa and Kingstown.

The Ministry also did not use the state approved lease arrangements when renting apartments for doctors and purchased supplies without tendering for services.

Slater said he had discussed “the matter” with the officers involved and was waiting a formal report, having received “certain explanations”.

The allegation of corruption was “very strong” and suggests that the officers involved used their authority “to benefit personally,” he said

“…I trust them. I believe in their integrity and what they have explained to me. I understand generally what has happened,” Slater said.

He said the expenditure on food was for incoming Cuban health personnel, their driver, liaison officer, and the “two or three” Cubans who welcome them at the airport.

Slater did not say why five or six persons would order 4 bottles of 2-litre soda, 3 regular French fries, one 10-piece combo mix, 2 biscuits, and 3 sets of 8-piece carnival mix, totalling $173, as was done on August 21, 2009, with similar purchases on August 22 and 23.

He, however, said food was sometimes purchased using the CIHP’s money “as a little incentive” to staff members who were working overtime.

Some of the items that were “unaccounted for” were in fact at the Ministry, but “certain questions were not asked by the auditors,” he said.

The money logged for upholstery paid for repairs to a private vehicle damaged in an accident in which a government vehicle was culpable, Slater said, adding, “The proof can be provided.”

Slater explained that it is standard procedure to use money from another programme when one project exhausts its funds.

In relation to the 12 tyres ordered for G732, he said they were ordered for other vehicles in the Ministry that use the same size tyres.

Slater said the practices were not “proper”, but the officers involved are not corrupt.

“I cannot defend or explain why it was done like that, because I didn’t do it, but I am saying that is the explanation and I have seen the proof of it and I owe it to the nation to explain,” he said of the Auditor’s findings.