OAG calls for probe

THE Office of the Auditor-General (OAG) has recommended the Ministry of Foreign Affairs investigate recurring anomalies highlighted in per diems paid to a former minister.

The recommendation was made in the 2016 Auditor-General’s Report after it was noted the former minister for foreign affairs, now the Minister for Defence, was overpaid allowances amounting to $19,557.44 in 2013 and 2016.

The report noted similar concerns were raised in previous audit reports. At the date of the audit in January 2017, the OAG said there was no documentary evidence provided to justify overpayments from March 2015 totaling $39,451.89.

The anomalies were recorded when the former foreign affairs minister travelled to attend meetings in the Pacific and also in Seoul and Abu Dhabi.

The audit report noted that on two occasions the former minister was paid per diems while travelling for private medical check-ups in Seoul and Shanghai.

The OAG report noted that in 2016 he was overpaid per diems in five instances for amounts including $4343.04, $1014.91, $3155.51, $2998.44, $3427.54 and was overpaid $4618 in one instance in 2013.

It was also noted that in three separate instances, Cabinet approval was not sought for the former minister’s travel and he was paid per diems totaling $10,099 for the three trips.

“The above findings indicate lack of proper checks in the ministry’s accounts section which had resulted in payment of incorrect travel allowances,” the OAG audit report noted.

“The overpayment of travel allowances has resulted in the loss of public funds. The ministry should ensure per diem allowance is paid to the minister in accordance with the Cabinet approval.

“The ministry should investigate the recurring anomalies highlighted,” the OAG Audit report noted.

The former minister also clarified the issues of his $4618 over payment in 2013.

In that instance he travelled to attend a ministerial meeting in Abu Dhabi, then to Astana and Shanghai for a medical check up.

On the trip, he also stayed in Seoul for three days which the OAG said was not approved by Cabinet.

“I had meetings in Seoul that were arranged by the Fiji Embassy in Seoul in my capacity as Minister for Foreign Affairs,” the former minister said.

“I had my medical check-up but also worked as I had bilateral meetings with the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials from Beijing and that all the trips were approved by the Hon. Prime Minister.”

The Foreign Affairs Ministry also said it was awaiting responses from the missions in Beijing and Seoul on the official copies of the outcome of the bilateral meetings.

He also clarified another occasion where the OAG noted he was overpaid by $1014.91 in his accommodation portion while attending a PSIDS Ministerial Troika meeting in Tonga.

The airfare and accommodation were to be funded by the Government of Sweden but the former minister said this was not the case.

“The Government of Sweden only paid for air fare and I had to pay for my accommodation from the per diem provided,” the former minister said.

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