“Deeply concerning”, those were the words used by Governor His Excellency John Rankin to describe a number of findings detailed in the Internal Audit Department’s Report on Assistance Grants issued between January 2019 and May 2022.

“The funds were for the most part not governed by any financial rules or eligibility criteria and were hence not consistently distributed on the basis of need. All of the programmes were absent of documented objectives and the audit highlights that individuals ‘within the orbit of the political arena may have received preferential treatment in the awarding of assistance”, his statement read. 

The audit was conducted in pursuant to recommendation B12 of the COI Report and is now available for public consumption after it was tabled and discussed in the House of Assembly in a redacted form.

This follows a leak of the document, believed to have taken place at the level of Cabinet, which is now under investigation by the Cabinet Secretary. 

Noting some of the findings of the audit, the Governor echoed “The audit concludes that these Assistance Grants Programmes lacked ‘controls that would promote equity, transparency and accountabilities” and that the programmes were allowed to ‘operate unabated at the whims and pleasure of elected officials’. ‘The operations of these programmes, for the most part, did not serve to resolve any socio-economic deficiencies’ and were ‘largely utilised to satisfy individual wants and desires’”.

“Let me assure the public that this audit in no way criticises those who were deserving of assistance and legitimately asked for support. Rather the audit exposes the lack of controls and criteria which appear to have allowed the system to be abused”, the statement added.

Moving forward, the Governor will be forwarding the report to the Attorney General’s Office for the Attorney General to assess whether the government should pursue recovery in any instances.

He will also ask the Director of Public Prosecutions and the police to assess if any offences were committed.

“It should be noted that the payments considered for this Assistance Grants audit are separate from the $16m issued in Covid-19 Assistance Grants and are separate from funding for local district infrastructure projects.”, he noted.

The Governor expects to receive an audit on the Covid-19 Assistance Grants Programmes by the end of March. After which it will have 3 months to be tabled in the House of Assembly.

“I welcome the commitment to reform which was expressed in the House of Assembly. It is vital that the necessary reforms are taken forward both before and after the forthcoming General Election, ensuring that public money is properly used to have a positive impact on people who find themselves in need”, he said.