A report from the Auditor General has flagged the Education Ministry for not complying “in all material respects” with the relevant Acts, regulations and policies regarding the procurement of textbooks in 2016.
A “Compliance Audit of the Procurement of Textbooks by the Ministry of Education for the year ended 31 December 2016” was conducted after the Auditor General’s 2015 Annual Report found, among other things, that contracts were not signed and textbooks were not delivered.
The report on the Compliance Audit of the Procurement of Textbooks by the Education Ministry, which was completed last year, was presented in the National Assembly on Friday last.
The findings highlighted, “Internal controls were weak and not functioning in some instances. Moreover, pertinent records were not properly maintained. Whilst relevant records were also not located and submitted for audit scrutiny. In addition, the manner and environment in which textbooks were stored presented a health and safety hazard”.
The report noted that in the year 2016, some $506 million was budgeted for the Education Ministry to procure textbooks for nursery, primary and secondary schools. But it now noted that $35.064 million was paid in excess of the Ministry’s approved allocation under Line Item 6224 for the nursery and primary levels.
“This represented a misallocation of expenditure, which is a breach of the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act 2003… The Ministry entered into contracts exceeding its approval allocation by $36.534 million. This is also a breach of the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act 2003, which prohibits agencies from entering into contract that exceeds its approval allotment for any given period.”
Furthermore, the report outlined that poor planning cost the Ministry $15.9 million. It said that 3609 “New 30 SEA Practice Test in Mathematics (Student Edition)” textbooks were bought in 2016 at a cost of $15.9 million and a total of 3559 were distributed. Subsequently, the Ministry purchased 12,550 “32 SEA Practice Test in Mathematics (Student Edition and Teacher Book)” for $61.2 million to replace the “New 30 SEA Practice Test in Mathematics (Student Edition)”.
Additionally, it was also found that the Ministry received 15,000 “Timehri Readers/Animal Friends W/Book 1” textbooks at the cost of $128.30 each. However, the Ministry had contracted the same contractor to supply 30,000 of the said textbooks at the unit price of $64.15, amounting to a total of $1,924,500. As a result, the Ministry received 15,000 textbooks for the contracted price of 30,000 of the same books.
“We could not determine whether the Ministry received textbooks valued $91.639 million, which is approximately 26 per cent of the total textbooks paid for in 2016… The correctness and accuracy of payments totalling $247.668 million, which is more than two-thirds [approximately 70 per cent] of the total payments for textbooks could not be verified… We could not determine whether contractors complied with the requirements of the contracts totalling $276.015 million.”
According to the report, the absence of performance security bonds places the Ministry in a quandary to levy on defaulting contractors. It added too that adherence to contractual requirements could not be determined due to the absence of key documents.
On the other hand, the Compliance Audit of the Procurement of Textbooks highlighted that textbooks had no identification as being the property of the Education Ministry as they had no official stamp. This is said to be a breach of the Book Policy as well as the fact that textbooks are being stored poorly at the Book Distribution Unit located in Evans Street, Charlestown.
“A physical inspection of the Unit’s bond revealed the following unsatisfactory features: Some textbooks were stored on the floor; racks/shelves were dusty – this posed a health hazard – and the bottom flat of the bond is at the same level of the yard; hence, flooding could pose a threat.”
It was also noted that the Book Distribution Unit is unable to determine whether the Unit was receiving the quantities of books as per contract.
As a result of these findings, the Audit Office recommends that the Education Ministry comply with all relevant legislation, including Procurement Act 2003; Fiscal Management and Accountability Act 2003; Stores Regulations 2003, and Book Policy 2007.
The Ministry was also urged to enforce all requirements of its contract. Recommendations were also made for the Ministry to document its meetings and secure same to aid audit scrutiny as well as secure all relevant documents/records for audit in a way that aids easy retrieval for audit scrutiny.