Minister Wells receives investigation report into suspended provincial councils
Three of the four suspended provincial councils in the country have been found to have serious breaches in almost all the financial and administrative areas they were audited for after the councils’ suspension.
This is contained in the reports of the auditor who investigated the accounts and administrations of the provinces.
Yesterday afternoon, the auditor, Pierro Willie, the senior finance officer of the Department of Local Authorities, handed in his reports to the Minister of Internal Affairs, Georges Wells who accepted the findings and the recommendations contained in the reports.
On March 9, Mr Wells suspended the councils of Sanma, Penama, Malampa and Torba Provinces for allegations of financial mismanagement and misuse of the councils’ powers.
And on March 27, he appointed the investigator to inspect the books and administration of the provinces of Sanma, Penama and Malampa and to report to the Minister by April 7.
And yesterday, the reports of the audits were presented to the Minister. Torba was not investigated because the province was suspended due to it failure to respond to the Minister’s directives to submit reports to his office on its financial and administrative performances.
In all the three provinces audited, it was found that although all the provincial councils had budgeted for annual payments of dividends as shareholders from the Northern Islands Stevedoring Company since 2000, nil payments were received during that period.
Only donations which did not match the budgeted figures were recorded.
For instance, over that period Malampa had budgeted for a dividend of Vt10.5 million, but it received none, and only got Vt7-5million in donations from Niscol. The other two provinces recorded similar figures.
All three provinces were found to have outstanding amounts in cash advances by both administration staff and councilors. The reports also showed that all the three provinces continued to operate more than three bank accounts allowed under provincial financial regulations. Penama Province for instance still has six bank accounts.
It was also found that in most cases, checks were being signed by two councilors instead of being signed by the Chief Executive Officer of the Provinces, the Secretary Generals. Again in all three provinces, their Trust Funds, which under law, get 5% of the annual grants from Government for the provinces to have access to the interests for use where it is required, were badly depleted. Of the three Malampa has Vt23 million in its Trust Fund, Penama Vt8-million and Sanma Vt11-million.
After having received the report, the Minister agreed to the recommendation for the provincial councils to remain suspended for up to eight months until improvements can be achieved or the Decentralization Act is amended to allow for better management of the provinces’ resources and operations.
At the same time, yesterday, the Minister of Internal Affairs received a report from the investigation into the accounts and operations of Shefa Province carried out last year.
“I am deeply concerned about the financial position and the running of Shefa Provincial council because it is worse that the four provinces suspended even though it has the highest budget of Vt90 million and raises the most revenue,” Mr. Wells said after hearing the report.
“For instance the use of the council’s assets by the councilors is against the requirements under CAP 230, the Decentralization Act. The province’s Trust Fund of around Vt26 million has been depleted with the purchase of three new vehicles and the balance is now the lowest from the other provinces at only over Vt1 million.
After receiving the report, Minister Wells, decided to issue a directive to the Shefa Provincial Council to work to rectify its current situation in two weeks or face suspension like the other provinces.