OLPF Project was “grossly” overstaffed – forensic audit

The Forensic Audit conducted on the One Laptop Per Family (OLPF) Project found that millions of dollars was wasted on the payment of salaries as the project was “grossly” overstaffed.

The audit, conducted by Ram and McRae, highlighted that there was as many as 16 departments and an average of 133 employees during the years 2012 to 2014 and no proper explanation by management for the over staffing situation.

“The Project Manager (Margo Boyce) was unable to offer any justification for the apparently high number of departments and employees, particularly since distributions were not carried out on a continuous basis and the procedures leading to distributions were relatively straightforward. We therefore consider the existence of the follow departments and retention of the employees therein unjustifiable,” the report stated.

According to the auditor, the Registry Department had an average number of three individuals, who were employed from January 1, 2013, to December 31, 2014, earning a total gross salary of $360,000 per month, which amounted to $8.6 million for the period of their employment. It was pointed out that while these persons were responsible for ensuring applications, recipients’ contracts and signature sheets were filed in an orderly manner and in accordance with the department’s Standard Operating Procedures, the specified documents for the years 2011 to 2013 were not filed in an appropriate manner.

The Public Relations Department too had an average number of three employees which existed between the periods of May 2012, to March 2013. The report stated that the average gross salary amounted to $310,000 per month, being an average cost of $3.4 million for the period the department existed. The auditors opined that it would have been more economical to outsource the public relations aspect of the project to eliminate the fixed labour cost.

Moreover, the Quality Assurance Department had two employees from April 2012 to December 2014; however in January 2015, an additional eight persons were hired as Quality Assurance Officers which raised the department’s salary expenses by over $1 million per month. “The Project Manager was unable to provide any reason for the additional appointments at that stage of the Project,” the auditors outlined.

As it relates to the Accounts Department, five persons were employed during the period April 2012, to December 2014 and again no satisfactory reasons could have been provided for such a large department to perform such basic tasks which could have been performed by one individual. Salaries for the accounting employees amounted to $460,000 per month, being a total of $15 million for the approximate two-year period.

On the other hand, the Documentation Department had eight employees at a cost of $710,000 per month. “In our opinion, the work of the Documentation Department and that of the Registration Department overlapped. It does not appear to us an economic proposition to have the employees of one department sorting documents and the employees of another department filing the same documents,” the auditors found.

They further pointed out that the Verification Department was by far the largest department, with an average of 44 staff members, and as much as 66 Verification Officers during the period December 2011 to December 2014. Each Verification Officer was paid a monthly basic salary of $80,000 plus a non-taxable travel allowance of $30,000 per month, totalling to an average of $4.8 million per month in salaries for that department.

The auditor believes that a cost-effective decision would have been to pay Verification Officers for days work or per recipient visit.

Nevertheless, in November 2014, it was announced that Cabinet had decided to downsize the Project. During the initial phase, 38 employees were released as of December 31, 2014; however, prior to the downsizing, the OLPF Project maintained an average of 113 employees during the year 2014. The auditors noted that the decision to downsize resulted in closure of the Linden, Essequibo and Berbice offices.

According to an analysis by the Project Manager, the reduction in employment cost and administrative expenses as a result for the downsizing were to the tune of $58,426,369 (35 per cent) and $1,326,267 (three per cent) respectively.

On the other hand, the auditors also examined the top management of the OLPF Project and found that the qualifications of Project Manager Margo Boyce were not sufficient for the level of responsibility and the skill requirements for the position.

On October 1, 2011, Boyce signed an agreement with Office of the President to perform the duties of Monitoring and Evaluation Consultant, for which she was responsible for the implementation of the delivery of goods and services for the One Laptop Per Family and development of the Community Service component for Project.

She had a basic monthly salary of $400,000 but this was increased the following month to $590,360 with no documented reason. Then on August 15, 2012, Boyce was appointed Project Manager at a basic salary of $700,000 per month until July 31, 2015, the effective date of her resignation.

In addition, the report also mentioned the appointments of Deputy Project Manager Azariah Asim, and the Project’s Warehouse Manager, Abdalla Hamilton, both of whom were sons of former Government Member of Parliament Joseph Hamilton.

They highlighted that the employment of the two might have been influenced by that fact, since they did not possess the necessary qualification(s) or relevant experience to operate within their respective posts.

According to the auditor, while the lower level positions were advertised, political considerations may have influenced the appointment of the more senior staff, including the two sons of the former Government parliamentarian.