Governor John Rankin has condemned the release of a leaked version of the audit report into the Public Assistance Grants issued by lawmakers and government ministries between January 2019 and May 2022.
The audit was commissioned in the wake of the Commission of Inquiry
) report which found that assistance grants distributed by members of the House of Assembly were done in a legally arbitrary and unlawful manner.
The report, issued by the Internal Audit Department (IAD) in December 2022, had been tabled in Cabinet and was expected to be released at a later date in redacted format — with the names of individual grant recipients removed — at some point after it had been laid in the House of Assembly (HOA).
But an unredacted version of the document seen by BVI News has been circulated through social media platforms and makes a number of revelations, including a disclosure about the indiscriminate issuance of grants to the families and friends of elected and other public officials.
In a statement issued by the governor late yesterday, he noted that Cabinet confidentiality is paramount, and said steps will now be taken to address the leak.
“I have accordingly ordered the Cabinet Secretary to carry out a leak inquiry in relation to this matter,” Governor Rankin said. “Should any criminal offence have occurred in relation to the leak that will also be a matter for the Police and the Director of Public Prosecutions to consider and take forward as appropriate.”
Program lacked transparency
In the meantime, the IAD pointed out the poor controls in place for HOA Assistance Grants, likening the scheme to an “unorganised welfare programme” which was missing basic tenant of good governance .
The IAD found that for the most part, operations of these programmes did not serve to resolve any socio-economic deficiencies in any communities as the programmes were largely utilised to satisfy individual wants and desires.
“It was largely controlled by elected officials who had little to no oversight and limitations to their discretion. We have concluded that the programmes lack appropriate objectives, control and structure that would promote transparency and accountability,” the IAD said in its report.
The audit report also concluded that the grants programme as operated by the government lacked the basic tenets of good governance, such as accountability, equity and transparency.
“All the programmes lacked clearly defined policy objectives and rules that would guide their functioning,” the report stated. “These programmes operated outside any financial rules for public expenditure on the fallacious belief that elected members exercised unconstrained authority over these funds.”
According to the IAD, the programmes were operated at that level simply because it has always been the argument that elected officials are more in tune with the needs of their constituency.
But the report concluded that even though that argument may hold some validity, that knowledge should have been utilised to inform and formulate policy to meet those needs in a holistic and transparent manner.