(CMR) An unusual spike in spending by the National Roads Authority during the pre-election period, February to April 2021, could indicate an abuse of public funds, Auditor General Sue Winspear has reported.
In a report on the 2021 Financial Audit of Government departments, the Office of the Auditor General stated that approximately 11 million, or 88 percent of the 13 million spent during the first four months of 2021, was spent just before the election.
At the end of 2021, the NRA had a bill of 23 million; this means over 50 percent of its spending for the entire year was before the elections.
According to the report, there was a similar trend in the 2017 election, with road fund revenues increasing three months before the elections.
“It is important that civil servants ensure that no policy changes or commitments are made in the run-up to or the period immediately after an election,” the report stated.
“The NRA is susceptible to political interference whereby, to gain political benefit, politicians with influence over its operations may determine when and where road infrastructure projects can be undertaken. I noted that there is no framework governing road construction services for the executive asset construction; this makes the NRA susceptible to political abuse,” the Auditor General noted.
The Regen contract was also briefly addressed in relation to pre-election spending and commitments. Ms. Winspear pointed to the fact that the contract was signed three weeks before the 2021 elections, with the government making significant commitments of up to 25 years.
While the current administration has revised the contract, the OAG has reviewed the initial contract signed and will publish a report in due course. Also addressed in relation to pre-election commitments were overseas offices and Dubai Expo. A report on these was leaked to the press but has not yet been made public.
“A comprehensive pre-election policy and set of protocols should be put in place to guide the conduct of the civil service before, during, and immediately after an election,” the Auditor General noted.
“This policy could set out restrictions on the use of public resources and the activities of civil servants and ministers in the period between an election being called and the election itself, and it could also guide operations immediately after the election,” Ms. Winspear stated.
She added that the policy should also clarify to existing ministers that they should not initiate new policies, new projects, or spending once an election has been called, to ensure that the election process remains fair and avoid the risk of biasing the voting population.