The Malta Independent 17 November 2018, Saturday

Government implements 80% of NAO recommendations in 2016

Thursday, 14 June 2018, 13:35 Last update: about 6 months ago

The implementation of recommendations from the National Audit Office in the civil service reached 80%, marginally exceeding the 78% mark of both previous years, the NAO’s Annual Report for 2016 has found.

The recommendations that were due in 2017 from the previous year have now all been implemented, apart from a few justifiable exceptions.

Defining the publication as an important link in the chain of initiatives within public administration, Principal Permanent Secretary Mario Cutajar said that the civil service has set itself challenging targets to deliver an effective governance. However, he did note that ‘customs die hard’.

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“This is so for a few public employees, who, though expected to implement the necessary changes following audit recommendations, do not have the motivation, drive, and price to change for the better,” Cutajar said.

The delegation of authority and the decentralization of a number of functions to Ministries, particularly in the areas of people management and resources, has also been implemented in order to ensure better accountability, he said.

The digitization of the public administration has also assisted with improving efficiency.

Cutajar also noted that substantial investments are also being made in various sectors to transform public administration into a more dynamic, client-centric system.

Cutajar dismissive of Cardona’s trips to Monaco

Cutajar was pressed on the revelations of Economy Minister Chris Cardona’s spending habits while on official business, in particular, his €11,000 trip to Monaco, on the same weekend as the Formula 1 Grand Prix.

However, he was dismissive, insisting that he will only comment on the NAO’s findings, culminating in Cutajar telling the journalist that “you still have no idea how the civil service works.”

Some of the findings in the NAO report:

While the report indicates a positive performance within the civil sector, the National Audit Office found a number of issues within a few distinct areas, including Ministry for Education and Employment particularly when it came to Church School education.

Ministry for Education and Employment

In one instance, the NAO noted that a substantial increase in expenditure over a 10-year period which almost doubled from 32 million to 63 million, while the student population had only increased by 3%.

In their justification, which was rejected by the NAO, MEDE said that costs cannot simply be compared to student populations, highlighting that the three new church schools had opened since 2011, which in total have 127 teaching grades, resulting in an increase of 85 teachers within 5 years.

Recent collective and sectoral agreement have increased church school expenses by 2.5%; while the increase in LSAs, the number of lessons, the introduction of new subjects and new services have also played a factor.

The MEDE then elected to seek envelope funding to meet Church School financial requirements, on the NAO’s recommendation a task has been appointed to explore this; while monthly reconciliations have also been initiated to ensure that there is no over or under spending.

The lack of documentation to support budget allocation was also a concern, with the relevant documentation made available four weeks after the NAO’s request despite numerous reminders. Workings provided showed a budgeted expenditure of a bit more than 62,000,000, however, no consideration was given to the annual interest for church schools which amounted to 3.5 million.

In its justification, which was also rejected by the NAO, the ministry said that the documentation was late because the Director for Finance and Administration was abroad. With regards to the interests, the ministry said, that it is deducted from the salaries due to schools as indicated in audited accounts.

Ministry for Transport

The lifting of contravention tickets without an agreement was also flagged by the NAO, however, the Ministry claimed that this was due to a humanitarian case for a person undergoing intensive treatment abroad. While the NAO rejected this justification, the Ministry noted that the person signed a repayment agreement and has made two payment since, the latest coming this year.

Film industry taxes

The NAO noted that the tax on the income of directors, actors, and front camera crew, despite being a main source of income for the country, is yet to be paid in its entirety. The Malta Film Commission rather than answer the NAO said that it is not entity responsible for the settlement of tax.

Detention Centre

The report found that a number of specific transactions could not be traced from source to completion and that no audit procedures could be carried out to ascertain the accuracy and validity balances, which have also hindered the reconciliation of vacation leave donated. The Ministry for Home Affairs insisted that the reconciliation of leave and TOIL balances have been available from January 2016, while the hourly rate and overtime have been settled according to regulations.

 

 

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