PM says food program audit findings ‘startling’

Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis said the report into the operations of the National Food Distribution Task Force makes for “startling reading” and documents major deficiencies.

Davis tabled the report in the House of Assembly this morning.

He said, “in the case of the food program, requests for credible documentation of how $53 million was spent have not been answered. To be clear, documents have been provided, but they are not documents that answer the most important questions posed.”

“…In the general findings of the audit report, 18 categories of major deficiencies were noted.

“These ranged from a widespread lack of record-keeping, and widespread inconsistences relating to the sums of money handled, to a complete absence of minutes being kept of meetings, agreements and actions,” Davis said.

“In other words, although tens of millions of the Bahamian people’s dollars were being spent, not even the most basic safeguards were in place.

“A government that speechified about transparency at great length and at every opportunity did not conduct even the most basic oversight of a major government initiative.”

Davis added: “Given the sums of money involved, the deficiencies are breath-taking.”

He said public officers did not have oversight in the expenditure of funds.

“Expenditure of millions of dollars remains unexplained and undocumented,” Davis added

“No audited financial statements have been provided, so information provided by the NGOs cannot be confirmed. Information Dashboards presented by the Task Force did not reconcile to the information provided by NGOs.

“So, for example, just to highlight the point, if the Task Force is saying that they gave an NGO $100,000, and the NGO is saying they only received $80,000, what’s happened to the difference?”

Initially intended to be a 12-week initiative, the food program was in operation for 70 weeks with $53 million in funding, and assisted the most vulnerable households during the COVID-19 pandemic when thousands of Bahamians were out of work.

Davis said to this day, despite numerous requests, two NGOs have still not provided any information at all, and their total expenditure was more than $10 million.

“Ten million dollars of the Bahamian people’s money, has simply vanished,” Davis said.

“We table the report today and once again, call on those with knowledge of the underlying facts to come forward. Those who have failed to provide answers and evidence still have an opportunity – and an obligation – to do so.

“We do not prejudge the circumstances we have uncovered. We cannot say definitively whether we are looking at jaw-dropping incompetence…or something considerably worse.”

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