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NAO finds audit mess in EU presidency bills

Direct orders were the 'order of the day'

Malta EU presidency... the NAO says direct orders were the order of the day. Photo: Steve Zammit Lupi

Malta EU presidency... the NAO says direct orders were the order of the day. Photo: Steve Zammit Lupi

A total of €25 million were spent by Malta on the six-month rotating presidency of the European Council last year and more than €15 million went into preparations the year before, the Auditor General found.

After analysing a sample of the services acquired, the National Audit Office noted that, in many occasions, direct orders were the order of the day and no real audit trail was kept when effecting payments.

In many instances, approval for direct orders was obtained after the service was already rendered and double payments were made to the same contractor without any verification of what had been delivered.

“The NAO noted a general lack of verification in the processing of transactions relating to the EU presidency,” the NAO said.

It noted there were instances when the Ministry for European Affairs and the Implementation of the Electoral Manifesto identified shortcomings and errors and took corrective measures by obtaining missing documentation and authorisations after the events would have taken place. 

The NAO found discrepancies between amounts paid to service providers and supporting documentation, instances of double payments and overpayment, lack of evidence of verification of expenditure settled through the EU presidency debit card, approvals obtained retrospectively and agreements entered into following the procurement of services.

Government hired 30 vehicles when it only required 15

Irregularities were noted in the provision of transport. In one case, a tender was issued for the provision of 40 chauffeur-driven cars but the sole bidder listed details of just 11 vehicles, failing to indicate whether he was planning to purchase additional cars.

The NAO said that though the bid should have been rejected, the unnamed evaluation committee still asked the bidder to indicate where in his original submission did he address requirement for additional cars. The contractor replied by confirming his ability to provide the required vehicles.

The government had also issued direct orders to cover “additional transport services”. In one instance, the government ended up hiring 30 vehicles when it only required 15. No documentation could be traced explaining why this had to happen, the Auditor General said.

Permission for a direct order of €48,766 for the provision of cars for two meetings held in January 2017 was made to the Finance Ministry four months later, in May.

Catering also turned out to be a large cost during Malta’s presidency of the European Council. Here too, the NAO found it difficult to verify the bills submitted.

“It could not be ascertained that a proper reconciliation between the number of billed guests and people who registered to attend was performed by the ministry. A number of invoices issued by the service provider were not substantiated, while, in other cases, discrepancies were noted,” the Audit Office pointed out.

Some direct orders

Leasing of vehicles Lease Plan €69,105
Leasing of vehicles Lease Plan €43,682
Leasing of vehicles Lease Plan €21,495
Marketing services Ikona Artworks €49,700
Communication with media houses Euractiv €75,000
Handyman services Optimise €41,280
Translation services German-Maltese Circle €40,000
Provision of uniforms Bortex €10,484
Gifts Bristow Potteries €32,000
Pencils Playcraft Malta €6,800
Floor manager Pierre Cachia €13,000
Advertising campaign Bay €15,000
Gifts Classic Group €15,000
Branded notebooks Playcraft Malta €32,035
Wine Delicata €11,454
Wine Ta’ Mena €10,120
Catering Mannarinu Caterers €57,500
Translation services Genaudio €128,739
Audio-visual services Nexos €10,820
Catering Palazzo Events €11,101
Catering Fortina €73,400
Hiring of venue InterContinental €77,000
Procurement of liquor Ta’ Mena €28,800

ivan.camilleri@timesofmalta.com

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