Public Accounts Committee: Needs Assessment Unit requires ‘major overhaul’

Audit pointed to lack of strategy and effective accountability

The Needs Assessment Unit, tasked with managing a number of social assistance programs, needs a “major overhaul,” according to the legislature’s Public Accounts Committee.

Committee members, led by chairman Ezzard Miller, reviewed the 2015 auditor general’s report on the unit, which found a disorganized system for welfare programs with little transparency or oversight. Auditors found that some people received public assistance “on the basis of political direction.”

“The PAC is particularly concerned that the emphasis by the ministry seems to be concentrating on the perceived need for substantial, (almost double) additions to staff compliment as a way to deliver services more efficiently and effectively,” Mr. Miller told the Legislative Assembly, tabling the committee’s report Friday.

“The PAC would like to suggest that a major overhaul of the procedures and policies, to devolve authority and reduce the bureaucratic duplication that was clearly demonstrated in the public hearings may be a better use of government resources,” Mr. Miller said, reading from the report to the House.

The May 2015 auditor general’s report had a number of recommendations. Mr. Miller said he and the committee hope to draw government’s attention specifically to three of those recommendations. First is that government should give the Needs Assessment Unit priorities and develop a strategy to better deliver social assistance and monitor results. Second, government should assess the staffing in light of a coordinated strategy. And third, “government should set clear, realistic and measurable objectives for each social assistance programme to provide a basis for assessing its performance.”

Mr. Miller said the committee was also concerned about the “absence of any deadline by management to address these recommendations.”

The Needs Assessment Unit is responsible for a range of social welfare programs, including benefits to seamen and veterans, poor relief payments, free school lunches, rental assistance, paying for indigent medical care and other programs.

Then-Auditor General Alastair Swarbrick wrote, “The audit found that there is no overall strategy that sets out the results being sought and the priorities to be pursued with the more than $50 million of public funds appropriated to social assistance programmes.”

He continued, “These programmes are not coordinated to ensure an appropriate assignment of responsibilities and a coherent approach to addressing current and emerging social needs. Further, in the absence of any measurement of results achieved, there is no effective accountability to the Legislative Assembly for this major portion of government expenditures.”

Speaking with reporters shortly after the release of the report, Mr. Swarbrick said, “Government has not taken the necessary steps over the years to ensure it is providing assistance in the right amount to the right people at the right time, and thus [is] ultimately failing the people they are supposed to serve.”

The audit also found that the unit, in many cases, did not keep any records on why it gives assistance to people through some of the dozen programs.