Auditor general uncovers discrepancies in CARE Programme


Auditor general uncovers discrepancies in CARE Programme

Senior staff reporter

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

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SEVERAL discrepancies have been uncovered following the Auditor General Department's (AGD) final review of the Government's COVID-19 Allocation of Resources for Employees (CARE) Programme, raising concerns in at least one area that unqualified people could have benefited from the COVID-19 General Grant.

The report on the CARE programme — which is a temporary cash transfer initiative to individuals and businesses to cushion the economic impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic — was the final of three tabled in the House of Representatives yesterday.

It sought to determine if there was compliance with the eligibility, processing and disbursement guidelines of the Business Employee Support and Transfer of Cash (BEST Cash) and general grant — specifically the occupational groups under the Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo), entertainment practitioners and bar operators — components of the CARE programme.

The Pamela Monroe Ellis-led agency said that it was satisfied that there was compliance with the requirements relating to the BEST Cash as the audit did not identify any unresolved material discrepancies.

However, it identified an increased risk of unqualified individuals benefiting from a COVID-19 General Grant because the responsible agency/ministry relied on data provided by external third-party associations for some occupational groups/practitioners without conducting the requisite due diligence to validate the data provided.

The department found, with respect to tourism sector workers, that the responsible agency/ministry did not conduct the requisite due diligence to provide reasonable assurance that the schedule of names provided in respect of red cap porters, golf caddies, independent tour guides, and some entertainment practitioners was reliable and contained only legitimate practitioners.

Instead, the department said, the names of people in the three tourism-related occupations and some entertainment practitioners were provided by external third-party associations and that a review of the relevant controls at these entities to provide reasonable assurance that the information provided was legitimate was not done.

“Instead, reliance was placed on these associations to prepare and submit the names of members to be included in the respective databases. Consequently, there was an increased risk of unqualified persons benefiting from a COVID-19 General Grant,” the report found.

The COVID-19 General Grant is a one-time grant of $25,000 or $40,000, which was available to specific occupation categories registered with the Tourism Product Development Company, Transport Authority or a municipal corporation, as well as entertainment practitioners registered with the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, and early childhood educators and non-academic (ancillary) staff employed to an institution registered by the Early Childhood Commission.

According to the report, TPDCo was responsible for providing a schedule of registered individuals for the tourism-related occupations eligible to benefit from the programme, however, it did not have a robust system in place to ensure that the schedules relating to red cap porters, golf caddies and independent tour guides contained only legitimate practitioners.

The department recommended that steps should be taken to validate the data provided by external third parties in order to reduce the risk of unqualified people benefiting from a COVID-19 General Grant.

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