ALARM bells raised by the Auditor General’s Department about poor governance practices in equity investments made by the National Insurance Fund (NIF), and activities of the Rehabilitation Programme — both under the Ministry of Labour and Social Security — are now the subject of investigations by law enforcement.
Permanent secretary in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security (MLSS) Colette Roberts Risden revealed Tuesday that the investigation related to NIF investment activities was being carried out by the Financial Investigation Division (FID), while that of the Rehabilitation Programme is being conducted by the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA).
The Rehabilitation Programme provides assistance to the most vulnerable through grants for emergencies, education, social intervention, and rehabilitation.
Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis and her team identified, during a special investigation, several breaches of the policy governing that programme, as well as payments made under questionable circumstances. A report was tabled in Parliament in February this year, containing findings on the NIF’s investment portfolio, as well as the Rehabilitation Programme.
The auditor general and the permanent secretary shed more light on the findings of that report when they appeared before Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Tuesday.
The report revealed that the NIF had breached its own investment policy guidelines in a number of transactions. It highlighted purchasing decisions related to the acquisition of shares in 19 companies at a cost of $2.78 billion and US$2.34 million, between February 2015 and September 2017, and stated that the auditors were “not satisfied that NIF consistently and adequately conducted qualitative and quantitative assessments prior to deciding on its investment options, potentially exposing the NIF to material financial losses on the individual investment and by extension the overall portfolio”.
On Tuesday, committee chairman Mark Golding said: “The idea of buying investments without having done proper analysis of what you’re buying is of concern, given that this unit is managing the public pension fund of the country, which has issues anyway in terms of adequacy of funding, so those issues would only be worsened if it’s not being managed diligently or honestly”.