Procurement Irregularities Uncovered At Education Ministry

According to the 2013 Auditor General’s report, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology failed to follow procurement rules in the year under review, thus violating the National Public Procurement Authority Act 2004.

The report, which is due to be deliberated on by Parliament, states that procurement procedures were not followed by ministry officials in violation of annual procurement plan of the ministry which stipulates a National Competitive Bidding and International Competitive Bidding methods to procure food for government boarding schools teaching and learning materials and text books.

However, the report reveals that the ministry adopted a restricted bidding method approved by the National Public Procurement Authority (NPPA) for no objection on the basis of urgency of time.

It also notes that it took more than six months from the inception of the process to the award and signing of the contract agreement for the supply of foods, while it took more than eight months from the commencement of the process to the signing of the contract agreements for the supply of text books and teaching and learning materials.

Thus, the report concludes that it stands to reason that ministry officials had sufficient time to have followed the required procurement processes.

The audit team further observed that the contractor had already supplied foods to government boarding schools for five months during the 201314 academic year prior to the signing of the contract agreement between the ministry and the contractor on 21 January 2014.

Thus, the report recommends that the Permanent Secretary should provide the relevant documents that would explain why the procurement process took more than eight months to be completed, and by extension, the NPPA should explain why there was “no objection” to the “restricted bidding” as the process took more than eight months to be executed.

The report says the Permanent Secretary (who was not named) justified the dubious procurement practice on the grounds that there were administrative gaps found at the time he was posted to the ministry in July 2013.

He is quoted to have said that due diligence was observed in the procurement process, and that ministry officials will comply with recommendations contained in the draft management letter as well as ensure value for money.

Despite such assurance, auditors say the issue remains unchanged.

Also, the audit service report reveals that 118 grant-in-aid awardees from different institutions were without student identification numbers.

Again, the unnamed Permanent Secretary is quoted to have stated that the ministry does not issue identity cards to students, rather their respective institutions print identity cards.

He is reported to have stated that students without ID numbers were not an indication of being illegitimate, as it could be they were in dire need of the grant as they were unable to matriculate at the time in question to get their ID numbers.

Thus, he is said to have argued that because payments were made directly to colleges, the latter could best provide details on the ID of the students in question.

But auditors note that the students in question were in Year Two and above, thus they ought to have had identification numbers as only fresh students in Year One may be without identification numbers.

Thus, the report recommends that the Permanent Secretary submit justifiable evidence for awards to beneficiaries without student identification numbers or the whole money be paid back into the Consolidated Revenue Fund, with evidence forwarded to Audit Service Sierra Leone.

Source : Concord Times

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