Thursday, September 8, 2011

Spending 5 Million Lempiras More Than You Have

As the person given control over the Ministry of Culture under the de facto regime of Roberto Micheletti in 2009, Myrna Castro spent more than 120 million lempiras ($6.48 million) in her short but notorious tenure.

And not all of that spending, it turns out, was adequately documented. In fact, pretty much none of it was.

The Tribunal Superior de Cuentas (TSC) audited the books of the Secretaria de Cultura, Arte y Deportes (SCAD) for the period July 1, 2009 to January 27, 2010 and reached the following conclusions:
"The results of our examinations disclose violations of the Law of the Accounting, the Law of Government Contracts, the Budget law, and the Law for the Protection of National Patrimony."

So wrote Martha Cecilia Rodriguez, head of the auditing department of the TSC, in a note to Bernard Martinez, the current Minister of Culture.

The audit was a result of reports of mismanagement of public resources, deficiencies in accounting practices and administration, and erroneous and suspicious decisions that appear to violate the law.

During the audited period, the SCAD took in 115 million lempiras while spending 120 million lempiras. Of this amount, there were no accounting controls on more than 111 million lempiras ($6 million) of spending.

So what were the problems? You name it, there's an example, usually an outrageous one.

The SCAD bought equipment to wire the Casa de Morazan museum for electricity. It also purchased curtain rods. These expenditures were identified as wasteful, because they preceded clearing these modernizations of the historic building with the Institute of Anthropology and History. The Institute did not approve them, since-- as should have been obvious to any qualified occupant of that position-- their installation would have damaged or destroy part of the national patrimony.

The Vice Minister for Sports simply transferred funds to the sports federations without requiring them to document how the funds were spent.

More than 12 million lempiras of funding supplied by the Organization of IberoAmerican States (OEI) were spent without supporting records to show what they were spent on.

To quote from the letter the TSC sent to Bernard Martinez again:
"this could cause the financial resources given to the sports federations, decentralized institutions and non-profit civil institutions to have been used for activities unrelated to the purpose for which they were assigned."

Another problem found was that some vendors delivered equipment which did not match what was ordered, and the deliveries went unchallenged in SCAD.

SCAD also gave away government equipment without following legal procedures.

The Vice Minister for Sports seems to have been a particularly egregious contributor to the total failure of accounting controls.

He took 92,000 lempiras as a loan from funds belonging to the Junior Orchestra Program to buy sports uniforms for athletes participating in a Central American event, but only repaid 52,000 lempiras of the loan amount, leaving 40,000 unaccounted.

But then, he says it wasn't really his fault. The Vice Minister told the TSC that, because of an order from Ms. Castro on 11 November, 2009, he was not in control of the funds to be used to repay the loan. Her letter instructed him that only she had the authority to use the resources assigned in his budget, and so the shortfall was not covered.

Ironically, Castro herself now works in the Tribunal Superior de Cuentas, not in audit, but in the Institutional Development department.

Her explanation for the 12 million lempiras missing from OEI funds suggests that perhaps she should be in a different line of work:
"Finances made the transfers to bring them [the projects] more rapidly to a conclusion. When I got there, things were already in motion. If we've already got the funds, we must carry out the project tied to a budget period and an operational plan."

Notice she doesn't mention any need to account for how the funds were spent?

What she appears to be saying is, if you've got the money, you have to spend it, not that you have to account for how you spent it. It's as if I gave you money to buy a new car, and you bought computers instead. The money's gone either way, but not necessarily for the reasons it was allocated in the first place.

The TSC stopped short of accusing Castro of having violated any laws.

It did demand a repayment of 20,000 lempiras from her, and and equal amount from her Vice Minister for Sports, to cover the missing 40,000 lempiras that belonged to the Junior Orchestra Program.

But otherwise, there doesn't seem to have been any actual accountability. Which would be funny if it weren't typical of the treatment of the actions that took place after the 2009 coup, when the de facto regime treated laws as unnecessary constraints.

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