Report clouded Pedro integrity

Reference is made to recent reports in the media on the Auditor General’s Special Report on the review of the gasoline charges incurred by Pedro St. James for the period July 2003 to April 2007.

We would appreciate the opportunity to respond as follows.

By way of background information, you should know that the practice of Pedro St. James staff charging gas to Pedro’s account at the Savannah Texaco Starmart for use in their personal vehicles was first discovered by the TAB senior management in January 2007. Following an internal review of the practice, it was determined that it was inadequate and not in keeping with accepted practices within other Government agencies.

The board immediately made the decision in February 2007 to issue a directive to all Pedro staff to stop the practice of charging gas to the Pedro account and to introduce a more effective and accountable system. This new system required all fuel purchases to be authorised in advance, with a printed name and signature, as well as an explanation for the purchase.

In May 2007, the TAB introduced a staff handbook and policy manual, which contained an updated and more efficient mileage reimbursement policy and system to deal with any employee who had to use his/her personal vehicle to perform work-related duties.

I wish to emphasise the fact that the TAB took corrective action to stop the inappropriate practice and to introduce its new mileage reimbursement policy prior to me making the request to the Auditor General to conduct an investigation into this matter.

On 28 May, 2007, I signed a letter of engagement with the auditor general to conduct a special investigation into the fuel charging practice. The main reason for requesting the auditor general to conduct this special investigation was to have an independent body assess the evidence of the case, which had been collected, and to review the procedure used to charge gas to the Pedro account. Under the letter of engagement the special report was to be completed by 15 June, 2007.

Based on my review of the special report I have concluded that it essentially confirms that there was a lack of proper policies and procedures to control the practice by staff to charge gas to the Pedro account. Consequentially, the lack of proper control allowed for the possible abuse of the account.

It is important to note that the special report delivered by the auditor general on 30 January, 2009, did not find any evidence that fraud was intended or committed by Pedro staff in the charging of gas. Equally important, there were no recommendations for any disciplinary action to be taken against the general manager or any other member of staff involved in this investigation.

Also, the special report did not make any recommendations for any specific corrective action be taken to further improve policies and procedures currently in place.

Based on the findings of the special report, a directive has been issued to the general manager to repay the TAB the total amount of CI$3,869, which is the amount calculated by the auditor general to be in excess of the motor vehicle allowance he should have received for the period investigated.

Furthermore, the general manager has been formally reprimanded and served with a written warning for misconduct, which includes a proviso that any repeat of any unauthorised charge of gasoline to the Pedro account by him or his staff will result in the termination of his employment.

The general manager has cooperated with the disciplinary measures imposed and has accepted full responsibility for the inadequate gas charging procedure that was implemented under his management. The TAB is satisfied that once this problem was identified it was proactive and followed proper procedures to resolve the resulting issues and eliminate any further loss to Government. Given that the matter was referred to the auditor general office, it is unfortunate that the report failed to fully recognise these corrective efforts undertaken by the TAB.

Finally, notwithstanding that the special report has verified serious irregularities in procedures and management practices it is regrettable that the findings of this report have been sensationalised by the press and others to reflect negatively on the entire staff at Pedro.

I would like to state unequivocally that the vast majority of staff at Pedro St. James is hard working, honest and committed to the mission of making Pedro St James a national historical site we can all enjoy and be proud of.

This incident was an aberration from accepted practices and procedure and the report should not have been used to cloud integrity and performance of the entire staff.

Gilbert Connolly – CEO, Tourism Attraction Board