NAO holding on to audit of ministerial credit cards

An investigation by the National Audit Office into the use of government credit cards by officials and ministers has been completed, but remains unpublished

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Matthew Vella
18 April 2017, 9:28am
The NAO did not deny the existence of the report when queried as to when it would be published
The NAO did not deny the existence of the report when queried as to when it would be published
An own-initiative investigation by the National Audit Office into the use of government credit cards by officials and ministers has been completed, but remains unpublished.

The investigation was completed some 10 months ago, but the NAO has not yet forwarded the inquiry to the Speaker of the House, where it would then be passed on to the public accounts committee.

MaltaToday is informed that the audit completed an across-the-board survey of all credit card purchases employed by government ministers, with some spends going into the thousands during visits abroad… to minor purchases such as fast-food stopovers.

The NAO did not deny the existence of the report when queried as to when it would be published.

“The National Audit Office felt that the various investigations mandated to the Office by the Public Accounts Committee or the Minister for Finance should be given the highest priority,” a spokesperson for the NAO said – suggesting that the office was only granting those audits requested by the PAC importance.

The NAO remains the island’s sole independent institution to regularly monitor government spends and egregious use of taxpayers’ money. Its annual report is an appointment for journalists to pore over spurious cases of public procurement, direct orders, and general wastage of resources.

Undoubtedly, the highlight of last year’s annual report was a €318 minibar bill for drinks consumed during an official visit to Dubai, where economy minister Chris Cardona gave an address in September 2015.

The delegation that spent three nights in Dubai was flagged by the NAO for a hotel bill that included a total of €756 on alcoholic beverages – €318 of which were from the mini-bar.

After publication of the case, the ministry said that the expenses emanated from the private room of Cardona’s chief of staff Mario Azzopardi, who accepted to refund the expenses incurred.

According to the NAO, the alcohol spend was a purchase that was “not considered as relating to official business” but was claimed as travel expenditure.

The €758 bill, from a three-day official trip, included €318 from a hotel minibar. Cardona was in Dubai with chief of staff Mario Azzopardi and personal assistant Dana Bonnici.

The total amount spent on alcohol was €438, with the rest of the money charged for meals. 

The NAO also said that in a trip to the Ukraine, a receipt for the purchase of €296 in personal items, was paid out of the contingency money granted to an unnamed travelling officer. The Ukraine trip of 19-24 June 2015, saw the €1,190 accommodation expenses included under both ‘hotel bill’ and ‘other receipts’ – an error that resulted in the refund of €327 to the travelling officer, when it should have been the ministry to be reimbursed €863.

The NAO was also irked that a “politically-exposed person” – no name identified – was given advances for use during visits abroad in the form of cash, when other travelling officers received theirs by means of a credit transfer.

In nine out of 10 official and ministerial trips reviewed by the NAO for testing, the breakdown of spending failed to include the actual air fares of €29,000, and one three-day trip to Monaco in May 2015 did not include €8,000 in accommodation expenses.

When the complete invoice for the Monaco trip was requested by NAO to verify the nature of any additional charges, the ministry for the economy said that the full documentation was not available and “probably misplaced”.

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Matthew Vella is executive editor at MaltaToday.