Referendum costs not accounted for

A review of spending on the 2012 “One man, one vote” referendum has revealed that although the Elections Office stayed within its budget, a number of expenses could not be verified or documented.  

According to government budget records, more than $350,000 was spent on “planning and execution of a referendum” during the 2012/13 fiscal cycle.  

Some of that money was spent to pay elections staff, with returning officers receiving a $3,000 to $4,000 flat rate; their deputies receiving $2,500 to $3,000; registering officers receiving between $1,500 or $1,800 either quarterly or monthly; and various team leaders, support officers, clerks and observers receiving either one-time payments or hourly rates.  

However, unlike in previous elections, there was apparently no effort to maintain a schedule that monitored actual expenses in line with the approved budget, according to the government’s Internal Audit Unit. 

Elections officials replied that it was assumed the former government Portfolio of Internal and External Affairs would perform the budget monitoring duties for the referendum. As it turned out, the job fell through the cracks.  

“Although the actual expenses incurred for the referendum did not exceed the approved appropriation [$354,550], this was not the result of adequate monitoring and review of expenses within a timely manner,” auditors found.  

The government’s Internal Audit Unit, which reviewed the referendum spending after July 2012, was also unable to verify the authority for any of the stipends paid to election workers.  

“The governor’s approval [for the stipends] was not seen by [the] auditor,” the review stated.  

In addition, auditors found there were “excess amounts” paid to five returning officers that were not included in the Elections Office files.  

“Five deputy returning officers for George Town were paid an honorarium of $3,300 each, which is in excess of the standard rate,” auditors reported.  

Elections officials said those workers were given additional responsibilities during the referendum and therefore received more pay. However, auditors noted that was not documented in any of the materials they reviewed.  

In response to the audit, the Elections Office said it would implement immediately requirements for adequate documentation of all personnel expenses.  

The Elections Office did not follow proper legal steps in procuring goods and services for the July 2012 referendum, either, auditors found. Many of the items purchased for the referendum were not evaluated by a tendering committee as required, even if the expenses were below the threshold for a public tendering process.  

“It is recommended that [government entities] continue to obtain at least three quotes for purchases and services less than $20,000 [now revised to $50,000] and that documentation for the basis of selecting the preferred quote is retained for audit purposes,” the audit report states.  

Auditors found that nine separate elections-related purchases did not show any evidence that alternate price quotes had been received.  

The supervisor of elections said that “based on long years of experience,” local elections officials already knew which vendors provided the best value for money to government. 

ballot boxes referendum

Referendum workers ship ballot boxes in the predawn hours of July 18, 2012. – Photo: File