The Ministry of Finance paid more than $9.1 million to a beneficiary that did not appear to be a non-governmental organization (NGO) engaged by the National Food Distribution Task Force under the previous administration, Office of the Prime Minister Director of Communications Latrae Rahming said yesterday.
“The Department of Social Services did not appear to have received and/or maintained sufficient and appropriate documentation and support related to the task force’s operations and execution of the food program, specifically for verification of resource allocation, beneficiary data, expenditures incurred and settled, and minutes for meetings held,” Rahming told The Nassau Guardian.
“There was no evidence of controls in place to address personal data protection and data integrity. The Department of Social Services noted duplications of beneficiaries at the end of the food program.
“Payments totaling $9,139,029 [were] made out to a beneficiary that did not appear to be classified as an NGO.”
Rahming said there was no evidence of controls to address the organization’s transactions and for transparency.
He said the government is concerned.
“This demonstrates a greater need for us to get a comprehensive understanding of what transpired and to provide a thorough account of the decisions made by the previous administration in the view of reporting back to the Bahamian people,” Rahming said.
“As you are aware, the emergency powers granted the former prime minister unchecked authority in procurement and suspension of civil liberties. We owe it to our democracy and the people of this country to determine if this power was abused.”
Rahming said the Davis administration has already started the process of auditing the Minnis administration’s COVID-19 spending.
He said the lack of availability of critical information is “disturbing”.
“Early accounts indicate no evidence that an internal control environment related to the food program and the task force was designed and implemented by the office of the financial secretary of the Ministry [of Finance] and the Department of Social Services,” Rahming said.
“Furthermore, there was no evidence that the office of the financial secretary of the ministry, the Department of Social Services and the task force collaborated to design policies, procedures and best practices aimed towards the execution of the task force’s duties, inclusive of reporting and monitoring.
“There was no evidence of authorized contracts in place with the NGOs under the food program. There was no evidence that controls existed for financial reporting and monitoring.”
He said there was also no evidence that the Department of Social Services obtained an understanding of the task force’s policies and procedures, related to the food distribution program, specifically as it relates to NGO selections, beneficiary selection, vendor selection, procurement and payment by the NGO, and expenses incurred and settled by the NGOs.
The task force was launched at the peak of The Bahamas’ first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic to assist families struggling to make ends meet as a result of the economic crisis triggered by the pandemic.
It was touted by former Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis during his time in office.
The task force provided assistance for more than 70 weeks at a price tag of at least $54 million.
At one point, during the pandemic, at least 57,000 households were depending on the task force.
Bahamas Bar Association President Kahlil Parker, QC, recently called on the government to establish an independent public inquiry into the country’s response to the pandemic.