Auditor General Leigh Trotman is concerned about the “chronic” late payment of salaries to some public sector workers which he said is resulting in undue hardship for them.
And he is predicting that the situation will only get worse if urgent corrective steps are not taken.
Following a 2014 review of the issue of the late payment by the Barbados Audit Office, which resulted in the submission of a report to the Ministry of the Public Service, Trotman did a follow-up review focusing on the period January 1, 2019 to March 31, 2023.
According to the latest Auditor General Report which was recently laid in Parliament, the objective of the audit was to determine the cause of the chronic late payment situation in the public service.
The organisations selected for the audit included the Barbados Fire Service, the Barbados Police Force, Immigration Department, Primary and Nursery School section of the Ministry of Education, the Psychiatric Hospital and the Ministry of Health and Wellness.
Auditors used a benchmark of two months and over, to indicate that a payment was made late.
“The issue of the late payment of salaries and other emoluments to public officers is a major concern and has been a longstanding matter. This negatively impacts employees in the public service and affects a number of temporary and permanent officers who need to wait a considerable time for the payment of salaries, acting allowances or arrears of increments,” Trotman said.
“This situation has caused undue hardship for officers who sometimes receive their salaries for acting assignments long after they become due. A number of steps have been taken to address the issue but have not substantially reduced the occurrence of late payments.”
The audit revealed that the total number of individuals paid late across the public service increased between January 2019 and December 2022, going up from 812 in 2019, to 2 148 in 2022.
Over the period January 1, 2019, to March 2023, the number of workers receiving pay late at least once was 6 211. Between January and March this year alone, 612 people got their salaries late.
Trotman said “based on the current projections, a greater number of persons are likely to be affected in 2023 than in previous years”.
Most of those affected were from the Barbados Police Service (58 per cent), followed by the Primary and Nursery Schools section of the Ministry of Education (18 per cent), and the Psychiatric Hospital (8.6 per cent), the Ministry of Health (6.1 per cent), Barbados Fire Service (5.7 per cent) and Immigration Department (3.4 per cent).
In order for public officers to receive pay, several processes must be followed, including the submission of information from ministries and departments to the Directorate, People Resourcing and Compliance (PRC).
Trotman said a number of factors were found to be negatively impacting the timely payment of salaries, acting allowances and increments for public officers, including the late submission of recommendations by ministries and departments to the PRC; insufficient information being submitted with recommendations for acting assignments; and delays in the approval process.
“In addition, there is the lack of timely action taken by departments to ensure that increments are paid promptly,” he said.
Other inefficiencies that contributed to the late payment of the officers included waiting for physical copies of authority letters and failure to initiate action for increments.
Trotman insisted that “efficient processing is necessary to ensure prompt payment of salaries, acting allowances and increments”.
Among the recommendations, the Barbados Audit Office suggested that the steps within the process for the approval of assignments be reviewed and simplified; the timelines set for the filling of vacancies be adhered to; the Correspondence Management System be reviewed with a view to resolving the issues identified by the users; and the system in the affected organisations be reviewed to see what additional measures are required for improvement.
It was also recommended that the Ministry of the Public Service have a monitoring mechanism and provide monthly reports on the extent of late payments in the various ministries and departments.
In its response, the Ministry of Public Service said some of the recommendations were being examined while others “can be explored”.