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Auditor General slams trust system for quarries

Published: 
Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Energy Ministry yesterday came in for criticism from the Auditor General’s Department as well as a Parliamentary oversight team for using a “trust” system with quarry operators.

“It’s not acceptable, it shows weak controls. There’s need to strengthen controls regarding production date from quarry companies,” audit executive in the Auditor General’s Department Brian Caesar told Energy Ministry officials, appearing before Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee.

Ministry Permanent Secretary Selwyn Lashley and auditor Marilyn Jamunat confirmed use of a “trust/honour” system when they - and other officials - were grilled on Ministry issues affecting energy and quarrying operations. Officials also admitted to shortcomings with staffing and other operations.

Lashley said there was a “trust system to a certain degree” with operators where the ministry audited operators’ books, had inspectors examining calibrations of operators’ devices and checks were done on how returns at month end reconciled with figures.

Jamunat, who said there was “more or less” an honour system, added operators’ information is calculated by the ministry. But ministry petroleum engineer, Mark Rudder, said he wasn’t satisfied with the frequency of inspections of calibrations as the ministry has only two inspectors when five are needed.

Despite Lashley’s listing of penalties for “honour system” violation, PAC chairman Dr Bhoe Tewarie said he wasn’t comforted by the verification controls. Deputy chair Rodger Samuel said the Ministry was using “backward operations.”

Caesar said the ministry also needed to strengthen systems for measuring materials before they are removed from quarries.

“Not after. You need systems to measure to increase revenues; turnstiles or way bridges—there must be more control,” he said Lashley said periodic geological survey was a solution and way-bridges to measure loads was considered, but involved problems.

“Much illegal removal of material is also done at night. It’s a bit of a challenge,” he admitted. He said the ministry is finalising a drone provider to aerially survey active quarry explorations. This will provide more speedy information on extractions from sites, especially remote ones, to recouncile with returns reported, he explained. The ministry is also seeking independent verification processes to cross-check operators’ input. Lashley said probing reports of illegal quarrying is a challenge due to remoteness of the areas and involvement of persons with questionable background.

“We require law enforcement to accompany investigators,” he said.