Tista’ taqra dan l-artiklu bil-Malti
An investigation by the National Audit Office has found the Gozo Ministry Strategy and Support Division paid almost a million euro in overtime and allowances in 2021 for claims that were “vague” and “habitual”.
The NAO found the reasons being given for the overtime at the division of nearly 800 workers, including those employed by the ministry in public cleansing and maintenance, were “generic, raising doubts on whether all overtime was justifiable and suggesting that extra work at the Ministry for Gozo was possibly being considered as an extension to the respective officer’s basic salary.”
A total of €956,120 was spent in 2021 on overtime and allowances among the employees of the division – 35 departments and sections, including the Maintenance and Restoration Directorate, Construction and Maintenance Unit, Public Cleansing Section and the Roads Section – which was 53% of the entire ministry’s overtime and allowances budget.
Jobs at the maintenance and cleansing departments within the Gozo Ministry are notorious as phantom job vote reward centres, where very little to no work gets done in the first place.
Now the Auditor General has found “overtime was carried out habitually, very often with vague justifications given for its requirement” and with a total lack of control.
It also found attendance sheets supporting overtime claims were completely “unreliable” and said it “cannot comfortably conclude whether the sampled officers were accurately paid for the overtime that they claimed”.
Urging the ministry to look into whether “continuous overtime work is attributable to underperformance during normal office hours and act accordingly”, the NAO recommended that, from now on, the ministry exercises “full control on overtime work, which is to be resorted to only in exceptional circumstances and, as far as possible, linked to ad hoc assignments with specific targets to be reached”.
Where overtime work is deemed routine, the ministry should “consider revisiting current work practices and seek alternatives which would still be efficient, but at the same time more economically beneficial”.
The NAO said along such lines, consideration should be given to the redeployment of employees to other departments and vice versa depending on seasonal requirements, as well as shifting working hours to prevent overtime abuse.
The NAO recommended the ministry ensures from now on that all officers accurately record their attendance on a daily basis, as outlined in the Public Service Management Code (PSMC):
“All details are to be clear and legible. The information held, especially that relating to overtime, is to be reviewed judiciously and certified correct by a responsible officer, independent from the officers signing for the same records. Action is to be taken against those officers who try to abuse.”
No information on €815,000 in allowances
On €815,000 paid out in allowances at the division, the Auditor General could not determine what they were for or where they went.
The NAO could not carry out any verifications on the already vague claims because “the required documentation was not made available for audit purposes… notwithstanding reminders”.
Nor was sufficient information provided on overtime rates and payments, while some of the officers sampled by the NAO “carried out overtime work considered as being outside their normal responsibilities and not in consonance with their job titles”.
These included a photographer with the Cultural Heritage Directorate who performed overtime as a Head Beach Supervisor, while an Assistant Foreman and Technical Officer at the Public Cleansing Section carried out additional work at the Civil Abattoir and also as a Beach Inspector.
In all cases, the NAO found the officers were paid overtime based on their respective daily hourly rates. But auditors could not establish if that rate was correct or whether a lower rate in line with the PSMC should have been applied, “as information requested on the applicable salary scale for the assigned overtime jobs was not received during the audit”.
The NAO has made the somewhat obvious recommendation along such lines that the ministry ensures that “if overtime is really necessary, officers are paid at the correct rate and that each payment is supported by computations for audit trail purposes”.