Solomon Islands report show ‘internal control failures’ of COVID-19 funds

Photo: Office of the Auditor-General Solomon Islands

The Solomon Islands Auditor General’s Office (OAG) has identified a range of internal control failures in its recently released Audit reports into the administration of Disaster Relief Funds during the COVID-19 outbreak in Solomon Islands.

The Auditor General’s Office focus was on Disaster Relief Funds allocated to the Ministry of Infrastructure Development (MID), Ministry of Health and Medical Service (MHMS), and the National Disaster Management Office (MDMO) following the declaration of the State of Public Emergency (SOPE) as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The three ministries spent over SBD$90 million(US$10.8 million) on goods, services, and works to support the response to the pandemic, most of it through a truncated procurement process.

The large volume of non-competitive procurement as a result of the use of the bid waiver meant that greater vigilance was required on the part of the Ministry of Finance and Treasury (MoFT) and Ministries to ensure value for money and integrity of transactions.

However, the Office of the Auditor General found little evidence of any increased vigilance.

The report finds some common themes across the three ministries and accordingly recommends that the Ministries, including the Ministry of Finance and Treasury (MoFT), address these findings together in a consistent and sustainable manner and improve on the level of internal control in Government procurements.

“It is important to acknowledge the extraordinary circumstances created by Covid which heightened the inherent risk for expediting procurements and delivery of service of established procedures,” the report stated.

The report further mentioned that the existence of urgent requirements is not an excuse to bypass established processes but rather be used with great care where controls are applied with urgency.

The report highlights that the common themes include the lack of transparency and required documentation, including the inability to provide full documentation to review transactions and this also includes failure of accountability on the part of the three Ministries.

“There are also areas in which noncompliance, potential fraud, and lack of accountability could together impact the efficient emergency procurements to deliver required and effective services expected during a crisis situation,” the report highlighted.

The report also looked at specific dimensions namely transparency, accountability, and inclusiveness and they are selected based on the international experience of best practice needs during an emergency situation.

The thematic report is a consolidation of all three audits undertaken which are individually tabled to parliament. The three ministries were key to the implementation of the preparedness and response plans following the declaration of SOPE.