Lead Editor, Investigative Desk
A whopping $37.4 million overtime bill has hung heavy on the shoulders of the Port-of-Spain City Corporation over the last three years according to a draft audit report done by the Central Audit Committee in the Ministry of Finance in May 2019.
The report obtained as part of a one-month Guardian Media investigation not only addressed the troubling overtime issue that has hit taxpayers’ pocket hard, but has also delved into issues of poor financial management, questionable tendering processes, mismanagement of funds and alleged corrupt activities.
In the 57-page audit report, the overtime issue is highlighted prominently as they noted that the “Corporation’s management of overtime was deficient.”
The report observed there “were no proper tools such as formalised policies and procedures, work schedules and tracking of employees’ time and output performance” to better manage the issue of overtime.
What the report found for the period 2015-2018 was “the lack of adequate control, led to the substantial expenditure of overtime.”
According to the breakdown of overtime which incorporated mainly daily paid workers in 2015-2016 the overtime bill was $13.7m, in 2016-2017 it was $12.8m and in 2017-2018 $10.8m.
In giving a substantial breakdown of the overtime in the specific departments they found that the Transport and Cleansing Unit had a “significant portion of the overtime.” In 2015-2016 their overtime bill was $7.1m, in 2016-2017 it was $6.8m and in 2017-2018 it was $5.5m.
One of the departments that had an astounding increase in overtime the report found was the Cemeteries and Crematorium department.
Overtime in that department for 2015-2016 was meagre $137,318 while the following financial year it was $107,715. However, in the 2017-2018 year, it rose exponentially to almost $2m.
The audit report noted, “there was no evidence to support these discrepancies.”
The auditors painted a bleak financial picture for the corporation if they continued down this path. They noted that in the financial year 2018-2019, allocation to daily paid overtime was some $9.2m. “In the first quarter over $3.8m was spent and with the continuing spending trend the allocation would not be sustainable by mid-year 2019.”
To alleviate this problem the report indicated that the CEO for the Port-of-Spain Corporation Annette Stapleton-Seaforth had implemented a control through a memorandum dated January 7, 2019 “whereby proposed overtime should be submitted to the CEO’s office prior to workers performing actual duties.”
The audit report also found there were shortcomings in the hiring of persons for the short term daily paid programmes.
“Central Audit could not adequately assess the process of recruitment and verify compliance with regulations, procedures and best practices. Further, the Works Supervisor III, who is responsible for the management of these resources was not available. As such, assessment of proper monitoring and controls could not be ascertained,” the report stated.
In the audit examination of pay sheets for the short term programme, they found some of the names chosen to work did not correspond with the approved list of names submitted by the CEO.
In this instance, they found that some 76 persons were rostered to work but only 62 had been approved by the CEO. Central Audit said they “received no reasons or justifications for such variance.” In this case, the hiring of some 14 persons could not be justified.
Ironically, the Central Audit noted that the Short Term Daily Paid Programme had been set up to effectively reduce overtime, but despite this, a department such as Transport and Cleaning Unit that had incurred a three year overtime bill of $19.4m had never been allocated any short term resources.
The Central Audit recommended proper controls be implemented to ensure fairness of opportunity to avoid “nepotism and biasness (sic) as well as hire a human resource specialist to restructure and reorganise the working schedules of the daily paid employees.”
In early February Guardian Media questioned Port of Spain Mayor Joel Martinez about this significant overtime bill. “This is a question I am unable to answer at this point in time.”
Mayor Martinez did promise to grant a follow-up interview to answer these and other pertinent questions he could not answer that day.
However, despite assurances by his communications personnel who we spoke with the following week on two occasions to set up the interview she said that the Mayor was “still busy and could not commit to a particular time or day because of his busy schedule.”
However, Guardian Media obtained a detailed document in which CEO Annette Stapleton-Seaforth responded to the draft Central Audit Committee report of the Ministry of Finance.
She said in the document, “The situation regarding overtime is currently being reviewed by the corporation. At present overtime is reduced to only areas of priority throughout the corporation.”
But this was not the first time the issue of hefty overtime had been placed on the CEO’s desk for her attention. Supervisory overtime payments had gone unchecked between the period 2015-2017 amounting to $26m according to an internal audit report prepared by the Acting Internal Auditor and sent for Stapleton-Seaforth’s action.
During our month-long investigation, Guardian Media also obtained a copy of the internal report which added credibility to the Central Audit report- which came two years later.
To stem the flow of this staggering $26m supervisory overtime payout, “payments to persons supervising were stopped pending a further investigation,” the internal report noted.
The internal auditor recommended:
A review of the processes concerning invoicing and rostering of supervisors in the city engineer’s department should be instituted with immediate effect.
And they also noted that “the pay sheets and cheque staff section were negligent with respect to identifying the onset of overpayments incurred during payments of overtime to supervisors.”
The internal auditor suggested a documented process be put in effect for overtime so there is no recurrence of overpayments in the future.
Several questions were sent to the Ministry of Rural Development and Local Government regarding the issues raised in the report of the Port of Spain City Corporation.
The ministry said they were made aware of the draft audit and said the completed audit was done a month later in June 2019.
The ministry said they were aware of the discrepancies raised in the report which not only included over time but also, procurement processes, the mayor’s fund, revenue, human resources issues and the utilization of unspent balances. The Ministry of Rural Development and Local Government said an “action plan” was being worked on by the ministry and the corporation to rectify these issues.