Gov’t departments admit fuel abuse

Say amounts taken much less than first estimated

Representatives of three government
departments admitted last week that some petrol appeared to have been
improperly taken in past years from the Cayman Islands fuel depot on North
Sound Road.

The exact time of the incidents was
not specified, but at least one case has led to a criminal investigation,
according to Police Commissioner David Baines.

Testimony about the alleged abuses
came to light during a meeting of the Legislative Assembly’s Public Accounts
Committee last week.

The probe comes following an
internal audit report and a review by former Cayman Islands Auditor General Dan
Duguay that found the potential for widespread fraud and abuse at the
Department of Vehicles and Emergency Services fuelling station, which provides
petrol for all government-owned vehicles.

Mr. Duguay’s report stated that
about 33 per cent, roughly $500,000, of fuel purchases made at the depot
between January 2008 and March 2009 were initially considered suspicious.

Both former Department of Vehicle
and Emergency Services Director Dale Dacres and the police commissioner took
issue with that estimate. However, neither man denied that some abuse of the government
fuel card system had likely occurred.

Mr. Baines referred to one case
specifically within the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service that occurred over
a lengthy period. He told the Public Accounts Committee that the investigation
involved some 150 purchases on one fuel card that was cause for some concern.

However, Mr. Baines said he
regarded statements in Mr. Duguay’s report about “suspicious purchases” in 33
per cent of all fuel card purchases between January 2008 and March 2009 as
“insulting” to those departments involved in the audit.

The commissioner said it appeared
more likely that slack management led to confusion over how many personal gas
cards and vehicle gas cards the RCIPS actually had.

For instance, Mr. Baines noted that
when he took over the police commissioner’s post in June 2009, there were no
less than six fuel cards in his government-issued vehicle, two of which had
been assigned to former RCIPS Commissioner David Thursfeld.

Mr. Thursfeld left the RCIPS more
than five years ago.

Mr. Dacres said there had been an
incident he was aware of at the fuel depot where a former employee had
allegedly been caught colluding with individuals in another government agency
to essentially provide them free fuel. Mr. Dacres said, when he found out about
the situation, the employee was immediately dismissed.

National Roads Authority Fleet
Manager Michelle Motta said there had been two instances in 2008 that involved
the unauthorised taking of fuel by employees. One man took about $400 of fuel
he could not account for, and another filled up a vehicle tank twice in one day
– one of those times a government fuel card was used to fill up a gas container
in the back of a truck.

“It was small amounts (of fuel),”
Ms Motta said of the incidents.

It is unknown whether police
investigated the latter two cases. However, Mr. Baines freely admitted that his
officers are currently busy handling serious criminal matters and simply do not
have time to probe what he called “administrative issues”.

Five government departments or
statutory authorities were reviewed as part of an internal government audit on
the fuel depot. That work was later expanded upon by Mr. Duguay’s office. The
agencies included the RCIPS, the Public Works Department, the National Roads
Authority, the Department of Environmental Health, and the Water Authority.

“The suggestion here is I’ve got
widespread corruption with police stealing gas…regrettably, that’s what went
out from the media,” Mr. Baines said, apparently referring to comments made on
a local talk radio show. 

The commissioner estimated the
amount of fuel involved in “suspicious” cases was likely more in the region of
$10,000-$20,000, though he said his department had not investigated each
specific instance.

The commissioner said it was more
likely that government fuel cards assigned to RCIPS officers who left the
department had merely been handed to other officers who were still serving, and
who used them legally and properly. He also said it was likely some fuel cards
had been misplaced by officers.

“What happens, pragmatically, is an
officer will go to fuel up, doesn’t have his card and will call the nearest
officer to help,” Mr. Baines said, adding that it was even possible some cards
had been “run through the wash” and lost.

Mr. Duguay admitted some instances
– where government fuel card usage appeared to be suspicious – were
explainable. Others, he said, were not.

“The commissioner brought up this
one instance where 60 vehicles were filled up (during a hurricane warning),”
Mr. Duguay said. “I understand that.”

“There are lots of other times
where cars were filled up…outside of hurricane season.”

“There’s rampant abuse of the
system,” he said. “It’s as simple as that.”

Mr. Baines said the current gas
card system – known as GASBOY – was overly bureaucratic and focused on the
monitoring of vehicles, not on purchases and use of fuel.

“The system functions, but it is
easily overrun,” the commissioner said, adding that he thought a more efficient
fuel monitoring procedure was needed. “My fear is that we will repeat some of
the failures that have occurred in the first place.”

Previous audit

The audit of the fuel card system
was conducted following an earlier review of the inventory controls at the
government fuel depot, Internal Audit Unit Acting Director Don House told the
Public Accounts Committee.

One of the concerns identified in
that previous report was that no surveillance cameras were being used to
monitor fuelling procedures at the depot after-hours.

The fuel card audit recommended
that those cameras be installed, and Mr. Dacres – who retired from the
Department of Vehicle and Emergency Services last month – said certain systems
were being looked at.

Public Accounts Committee Chairman
Ezzard Miller asked Mr. Dacres if he thought the current GASBOY fuel card
system should be abandoned.

Mr. Dacres said he believed the
current fuel monitoring system could work if government departments properly
policed the process. He said it was not the responsibility of the Department of
Vehicle and Emergency Services to do that for the other agencies.

“We don’t want to tell the Public
Works Department how to run its business,” Mr. Dacres said. “It would be better
in the future for heads of [government] departments to assign these cards with
a written fuel use agreement.”

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1 COMMENT

  1. Dear Sirs,
    This would be one answer to resizing the bloated civil service. It is simple, stealing is stealing and anyone who is proven to have stolen fuel should be fired no matter what position they hold.

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