Allowances at two cost centres within the Ministry for Foreign and European Affairs cost taxpayers €6 million in 2021, according to a report by the National Audit Office (NAO).
Allowances at the Head Office cost almost €2 million, and €4 million for the Permanent Representation in Brussels. The audit revealed lax oversight and procedures that were not followed.
This resulted in overpayment of allowances, while reimbursements of education grants and medical expenses were not in line with the Conditions of Service.
The NAO found that on medical care, both the Missions and Head Office accepted claims for the reimbursement of expenses in the audit sample to the tune of €13,086, which were neither listed in the pertinent Schedule nor considered to be treatment.
The Conditions of Service stipulate that the cost for treatment arising from hospitalisation is eligible for 90% reimbursement.
Yet, the NAO found that €77,636 for hospitalisation and respective fees was refunded in full by the Head Office to one of the officers resulting in an overpayment of €7,764.
Moreover, the respective claim was not processed through the correct form and, therefore, not formally approved by the Permanent Secretary.
The NAO audit also noted expenditure on education grants. It found that three of the five sampled claims for the education grant, amounting to $126,044, were reimbursed during the same month of submission before incurring any expenses.
The Conditions of Service stipulate that claims for the grant of 90% of the educational expenses must be based on costs already incurred and supported by proof of payments. Yet, in the sample of claims analysed by the NAO, such deviation from the conditions was never approved.
In addition, the NAO’s review of the five claims showed that one of the officers was over-reimbursed some €4,000.
The NAO also found that claim forms for both education and medical care were not in line with rules that state each form must be endorsed by the claimant, Head of Mission, Director Corporate Services and, finally, the Permanent Secretary to approve the reimbursement.
All the 16 forms reviewed by the NAO covering the education grant or medical care expenses did not include all the required signatures.
In nine cases, amounting to €6,574, the Director Corporate Services signed on behalf of the Permanent Secretary without delegation of authority, while the rest of the claims, amounting to €141,403, were not even endorsed by the Director Corporate Services.
Besides the Malta salary, officers are paid a non-taxable Post Adjustment Allowance (PAA) and settling-in allowance. A representation allowance, outfit allowance, overseas child allowance and deputising allowance are also paid, apart from reimbursements for education and medical expenses.
The audit also found issues with overtime payments. The Public Service Management Code states overtime has to be approved beforehand by the respective Permanent Secretary unless this authority is formally delegated in writing.
Yet when the NAO looked into overtime claimed by security officers employed with the ministry, the necessary documentation was not provided.
Also, overtime pay was not always accompanied by certified attendance records to substantiate the claimed overtime. Meanwhile, the budget for overtime was exceeded by €16,000 in the sample analysed by the Auditor General.