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Significant risk to diplomatic bags

Published: 
Friday, June 15, 2018
Auditor General tells Parliament committee
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Deputy Auditor General, Lorelly Pujadas, responding to a question from the committee during Wednesday’s JSC meeting. Photo by:OFFICE OF THE PARLIAMENT

A warning from the Auditor General’s office that “there is significant risk,” that diplomatic bags could be abused and used for “unauthorised packages, if there is not proper oversight in use of the bags.

The Auditor General’s Department appeared before the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament on Wednesday, when committee member Randall Mitchell asked about “significant weakness in the movement of the diplomatic bag” identified in the Auditor General’s 2017 report.

Acting Auditor General Lorelly Pujadas, as part of its audit of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the body “would do a sample of overseas missions,” but it was not the department’s mandate to “audit the overseas missions.” That mandate, she said, “is vested with the Comptroller of Accounts, the Treasury Division.”

But when it did an audit of three missions, she said, “in a particular mission we attended,” they could not find the records of the Duplicate Schedule of the Bags and the contents, which was in keeping with written guidelines.

Asked by Mitchell what that weakness could mean for T&T “with respect to the potential for abuse,” Pujadas said there was “a risk the diplomatic seal could be used in unauthorised packages. It is a significant risk.”

She said it was up to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “as well as the missions, as well as the Treasury, to ensure that the controls are developed and complied with.”

All the Auditor General’s Department could do, she said, was to highlight the issue, “but it is a risk.”

Committee member Paula Gopee-Scoon said she was “quite alarmed” at the status of this country’s residence in Geneva.

In September 2011, Cabinet approved the refurbishment of the residence to the tune of $13.7 million. But in 2015, the Cabinet approved “$27.3 million a 100 per cent increase, notwithstanding that the actual cost to December 18, 2015 was $24.9 million.”

The Auditor General’s department had visited the project in August 2017. Asked by Gopee-Scoon how much of the work was completed at the time of the visit Assistant Auditor General Gaitree Maharaj responded, “We were not able to determine the percentage completed. I will venture to say 90 per cent.”

Asked by Gopee-Scoon about authorisation for “a double furnished professional kitchen, a kitchen elevator, a smart toilet and bathtub with spa jets,” which was not approved by the Cabinet, Maharaj said, “this may have been approved by the Ministry.”

She admitted that there was no documentary evidence of approval for the scope of work.

Gopee-Scoon also expressed concern about “the fact that no tenders committee was used for a contractor for the project.”

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