Over 9000 eligible applicants denied APNU/AFC COVID-19 grant – AG Report
…multiple applications processed for those successful
…$56M in vouchers not checked before paying suppliers
The Special Audit into the distribution of COVID-19 pandemic relief vouchers has uncovered that during the distribution process, over 9000 applicants who were eligible to receive vouchers, were side-lined under the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Government.
The Audit Office of Guyana had launched a special audit on the former Administration’s COVID-19 pandemic assistance voucher programme for the period March to September 2020. Under this programme, the former Government provided economic relief to citizens including supplies and vouchers valued between $25,000 and $32,000.
The special audit found, however, that of the 11,098 applicants who were eligible for the relief, only 1814 were shortlisted for verification. This means that 9284 qualified applicants did not receive vouchers. Furthermore, the Auditor General said no explanation was given as to the reason.
“People who needed assistance were denied. Over 9000 out of 11,000 qualified applicants did not receive vouchers, and officials have not explained why. The programme excluded persons in the hinterland regions. Instead, they were promised hampers,” the report stated.
According to the report, the COVID-19 relief programme was supposed to be for residents of Regions Two, Three, Four, Five, Six and 10. The application process started in May 2020 and by June of that year, 26,283 applications had been received. One of the report’s findings was that vouchers were distributed to persons in regions not identified for vouchers.
Among the hiccups that were discovered were instances where multiple applications were processed for one applicant. There were also cases where forms of identification were not entered into the database for applicants.
“Officials processed COVID-19 vouchers in line with the programme guidelines. However, significant gaps were noted during the conduct of the audit. Officials of the National Data Management Authority (NDMA) did not respond to the audit findings,” the audit report noted.
Additionally, it was found that vouchers totalling $56 million were not checked before paying suppliers. The report showed that this weakness could have resulted in overpayment to suppliers and eligible persons not given much needed relief.
Another shocking finding from the audit was that over 3000 unused vouchers valued at least $90 million were left unsecured on a desk. As a result, the vouchers could have been easily accessed and used to obtain items from suppliers.
“Verification exercise conducted on the 18 August 2020, revealed that over 3000 unused vouchers valued at approximately $90M were left unsecured on a desk and could have been accessed by unauthorised personnel, as shown at Figure 5 below,” the Auditor General found.
“This was as a result of all 5000 vouchers being requisitioned and collected from the stores on 18 June 2020. However, only 1760 vouchers were needed for the approved applications. As a result, the unused vouchers could have been accessed and used to obtain items from suppliers,” the report also stated.
The Audit Office recommended that the NDMA ensure proper controls are in place for future projects of a similar nature.
The COVID-19 Pandemic Assistance Voucher Programme came into operation in April 2020. The objective of the programme was to provide economic relief to vulnerable households through the supply of hampers with fresh foods, dry ration, toiletries, and sanitation items. The programme targeted single parents, senior citizens, disabled persons, and persons who suffered a loss of income due to the pandemic.
The programme was funded through the allocation of funds from the budget for the financial year 2020 of the various agencies responsible for the management of the programme. Persons interested in benefiting from the programme were required to register online.
Those without internet access were required to contact either the Ministry of Social Protection or the Ministry of Communities to have their application forms completed. Applicants were then shortlisted based on eligibility criteria approved by the Ministry of Finance. Eligible applicants’ information was verified and approved. Vouchers valued between $25,000 and $32,000 were dispatched by the post office.
The voucher included a flyer showing the list of items that could be obtained from approved supermarkets and shops. The vouchers were encashed at supermarkets for the items. Suppliers submitted encashed vouchers to the Civil Defence Commission for reimbursements. The vouchers were not transferable or redeemable for cash.