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St. Maarten Audit Chamber finds government’s personnel files in disarray

FRIDAY, 24 AUGUST 2012

PHILIPSBURG–A recently concluded regulatory audit into government’s personnel cost for 2011 has found that personnel files are incomplete and spread over several departments, a number of civil servants are without appointment decrees and several cleaners are on the payroll, but no proof was found that they were actually working. Results of the study were presented to the Central Committee of Parliament on Thursday by the General Audit Chamber, headed by Acting Chairman Ronald Halman.

The 110-page audit, the first of its kind to be carried out by the General Audit Chamber, reviewed a sample of 324 personnel files. Audit Chamber Secretary General Joane Dovale-Meit said such a “large sample” was taken with the aim of getting at least a 95 per cent reliability rate. The incompleteness of the personnel files did not allow for that accurate rate.
The audit “could not establish the lawfulness of the personnel cost” within a reliability rate of 95 per cent because too much data was missing, the unstructured nature of the personnel files, and lack of a complete archive to determine if payments were correct. A follow up to this audit will be conducted in two years.

The audit started in November 2011 and comprises two parts. The second part, a result of the findings of the personnel audit, will go in depth into pension registrations. That will be ready for release at the end of September.

Personnel cost accounts for 30 per cent of the country’s budget, prompting the audit chamber to check for efficiency as a means of continuing to build “a strong and healthy public sector.”

The audit sought to establish whether payments of wages/salaries at all seven ministries, the high councils of state (including the audit chamber) and several organs were lawful, whether a legal framework was in place for payments, whether correct wages are being paid and applied based on job description and whether personnel files are complete. A financial audit was also carried out.

The audit chamber held hearings and consultations with the civil servants and the Council of Ministers. The findings were shared with the ministries. The Ministries of Finance, General Affairs and Justice agreed with the findings, but others such as the Ministry of Education did not respond.

The regulatory audit found that all ministries and departments had a legal basis in the Constitution or national ordinances. They had a legal basis for payments via the country budget that was approved by Parliament. Staffing manuals as required by law were in place as well as the procedure to hire civil servants.
With the exception of the Justice Ministry, all ministries have an approved staffing manual. “This is one ministry that we found that there is still some work to be done,” Dovale-Meit said.

Also at the Central Committee meeting were Audit Chamber members Daniel Hassell and Alphons Gumbs.
MPs raised concerns about government operations and the need to rectify the issue with the pension fund registration.
No files
Based on the legal framework, the auditors “expected to find a single central file at the Personnel Affairs,” but they had to search in several places including General Affairs, Ministry and Wages and Salaries Department.
“We have not been able to find in one single place correct and complete personnel files … files are stored in several places and it is not clear to employees of the two departments responsible who is responsible for the personnel files,” according to Dovale-Meit.

No overview of documents that should be in the files is in place making it impossible for the people managing them to know what is missing. A file was found for 289 civil servants in the sample at least in one location checked by the auditors. Multiple files or “shadow dossiers” were found in some places. No file was found at any location for 35 civil servants. No dossier/file was found to be 100 per cent complete. Of the total, an average of 44 per cent of all personnel files included an appointment decree or contract for the civil servant. No appointment decree or contract was found for the remaining 56 per cent of civil servants. “This was a bit concerning given that this is more than half.”

The Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Education, Youth, Sports and Culture and the Ministry of Health, Social Development and Labour fell below the average percentage of civil servants with appointments/contracts. The high councils of state, Ministries of General Affairs, Finance, and Tourism and Economic Affairs were above the average rate of 44 per cent.
A determination about the accuracy of the job description based on the staffing manual and the salary scale could not be made because of the lack of the appointment decrees/contracts in the files. “We found so little data that to make a statement we could not back that up with a 95 per cent reliability that we require,” Dovale-Meit said.

The audit chamber recommended that the outstanding appointment of civil servants and copies of the decrees/contracted be placed in the files as soon as possible.

Salaries
About 80 per cent of the civil servants with a contract/appointment decree had a job description linked to the staffing manual. Of the total civil servants with a contract/appointment decree, 55 per cent had a salary scale in line with the staffing manual. Twenty-seven civil servants of the total sample had a lower salary scale and 39 had a higher scale than prescribed by the staffing manual.

Pension
The audit chamber is “a bit concerned” about the number of personnel who do not have an official registration document for the General Pension Fund APS in their file. A registration document for the pension fund was found in the files of a 42 per cent sample. “This does not immediately mean that personnel are not registered at the pension fund … we can’t find any good proof that they are [registered].” APS has “admitted” that not all personnel of government is registered, but was unable to provide the auditors with the exact number. The audit chamber finds that this is an issue of such concern that its board decided to extend the investigation and do the second part of the regulatory study.

Medical Tests
The audit chamber recommended that government consider implementing medical testing or review if this is still necessary to be carried out for all civil servants. “We think the reason for the pension data not being complete is the lack of a medical test. Without a medical test you cannot enter the pension plan.” Most of the files lacked a medical test.

Active/Inactive

The auditors could not look further into the active service of the civil servants because some personnel files were not available and appointments of personnel were not completed.

Looking further, it could not be determined for four per cent of the sample whether they were in active service. Most of the cases were found in the Ministry of General Affairs where seven “cleaners” are on the payroll, but there is no paperwork to show that they are in active service. “While being paid, there was no proof that the people were actively and physically working.”

Financial audit
This audit examined allocated funds in the budget per ministry and utilisation. A total of 92.12 per cent of the personnel budget was utilised in 2011. No department exceeded their allocated amount because a number of strategic vacancies were not filled. The audit chamber thinks the utilisation will reach 100 per cent when those vacancies are filled.
The high councils used 50 per cent less of their budgets due to the specialized vacancies that still have to be filled and personnel costs being taken up under the Ministry of General Affairs in the country budget.

P R E S S R E L E A S E presentatie RMO 230812 v2

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