SPTC responds to audit report

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 19, No. 9            March 5, 2009

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Mayor Elsa Paz took the bull by the horns with the Auditor General Report. She was alongside Honorable Manuel Heredia.

As promised by the San Pedro Town Council (SPTC) and Mayor Elsa Paz, before the March 4th elections, a meeting would be convened and the Auditor Generalís questions would be answered to the general public. Edmund Zuniga, auditor, wrote to Prime Minister Dean Barrow on September 30th, 2008 and stated that the report was completed.

    On Monday morning, San Pedro Mayor Elsa Paz presented the findings of the Auditor General and responded to the questions asked by the Auditor General who presented a report for the years 2001-2006. About 50 residents attended the meeting which was held at the San Pedro Lions Den. Within the report, the Auditor General pointed out that a complete inspection could not be carried due to a lack of pertinent receipts books. In addition, the Auditor went on to explain that the value books for the period of April 1st, 2001 to March 31st, 2006 were not suitable for Audit purposes which was directly in contravention of the Financial Order Number 196. In her report, the Mayor responded that receipt books were damaged by water while the office was being renovated and that a proper audit book is being kept. It was stated, however, that the damaged documents were disposed but a copy was forwarded to the Audit Report.

    The Auditor Generalís Report also made reference to the SPTC Belize Bank account. On several occasions between 2003 and 2006, the account was debited because of numerous dishonored checks which had been previously deposited as payments into the Councilís account. Mayor Paz stated that collecting on these debts was difficult considering that in many instances the people could not be located. During the meeting, a key concern among the attending group was the question suggesting that Town Council conducted ďbad practicesĒ between the years 2003-2006, such as keeping bad record of receipt invoices. According to the report, although requested several times, no invoices for receipt books purchased by the Council was ever presented for Audit, hence it was impossible to ascertain if all books purchased were recorded and or utilized properly by the Council. In her response, the Mayor stated that mistakes where made and that now the Town Council is keeping a record of receipts invoices.

    The Auditor Generalís Report also questioned several vouchers but the one that called for public explanation was six vouchers ranging from July 20th, 2004 to December 30th, 2005 showing that the Town Council gave Area Representative, Honorable Manuel Heredia, a total of $2,156.30. In her response to the report, the Mayor stated that those payments were for allowances (subsistence) for work carried out on behalf of the Town Council.

    The Auditor General also questioned the Town Council on failure to present store ledgers or inventory for the six yearís audited, but the Mayor stated that since then, the Town Council has been keeping a proper inventory for the stores where the Council makes its purchases. In terms of fuel, the Report stated that fuel orders issued were noted incomplete and that license plate numbers were not inserted. The Mayor, in her response stated that corrective methods have been put in place, including the entering of license plate numbers on the fuel purchase orders for Town Council vehicles.

    Other issues tackled were the minutes of various meetings. The first was dated on February 19th, 2002 which discussed the sale of the old ferry to Cecil Moore for $500 and the monies never recovered. The second was dated April 15th, 2003 and they stated that a golf cart from the San Pedro Town Council was sold to past Councilor Baldemar Graniel for $500 without any indication that the cart was auctioned off to the general public as is the norm. At the time of the golf cart sale, Mayor Paz explained that the cart model was unique and that there were only two golf carts of that make on the island, the other being of Graniel. However, the Mayor pointed out that there were no receipts to verify if the $500 was received. The second section in the minutes that poised concern was in reference to minutes dated December 17th, 2003. Those minutes revealed that SPTC purchased a golf cart from Joel Chi at a price tag of $6,000. Joel Chi failed to deliver the golf cart and in March of 2006, SPTC got an offer to settle the debt from Chi who offered a pickup valued at $7,000 in the cartís place. However, Chi never settled the matter. The Auditor General questioned why the Town Council went into such agreement and why any legal actions where not taken against the individual. The Mayor stated that an agreement was carried out since Chi offered the Town Council the best deal for a cart, they opted to purchase the cart from Chi. In addition, the Town Council could not take the matter to court because Chi never signed a voucher as a proof that monies were paid to him, hence the Town Council would not have had a strong case in court to recover the money. However, the Mayor stated that the SPTC has signed an agreement with Mr. Chi in order to recover the $6,000 owed to them.

    After the Mayor reviewed the Auditor Generalís Report, several people from the group continued to pose questions, in which the Mayor maintained that all questions had been answered in the report. Prior to the end of the meeting it was explained that the Auditor Generalís Report is a live document and as such, any interested party, can stop in at SPTC offices and have a look.

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