Headline — 29 August 2018 — by Rowland A. Parks
Sapna Budhrani mismanaging NICH

 “The concern is the ineffectiveness of Ms. [Sapna] Budhrani’s improper financial management of NICH and apparent lack of concern to address irregularities,” said an audit dated August 11, 2018

BELIZE CITY, Mon. Aug. 27, 2018– An audit report at the National Institute of Culture and History (NICH) leaked to the media highlights a disturbing catalogue of financial abuse that calls into question the administrative competency of the NICH president, Sapna Budhrani, who was appointed to fill the post only last month.

Budhrani, who was appointed as NICH administrator, was also its director before she was appointed president of NICH.

The audit report, dated August 11, 2018, was written in memorandum format by Roberto Matus, an auditor, and addressed to Edwin Alvarado, the Financial Officer for NICH, with the subject being: “Audit note concerns.”

“We have noted erosions in financial accountability and transparency,” said the document, which was obtained by Amandala.

Budhrani, however, has also come under intense criticism for her managerial shortcomings from Music Ambassador Shyne Barrow, son of Prime Minister Dean Barrow, who spoke out against Budhrani being NICH president and administrator.

“I do think that it is inappropriate that you have a president who is also the administrator for checks and balances. For accountability and transparency, it is important that those roles be separated,” Barrow stated.

Barrow added, “In fact, that is why it was structured like that to begin with, so certainly, you can’t have the CFO be the CEO, be the President, be everything and certainly there have been very many concerns raised by different executives as to the operations of NICH.”

Barrow also complained that Budhrani has ignored his correspondence as it relates to the Garifuna Collective going to WOMEX, a correspondence Barrow said Budhrani replied to one month later. “…the way forth has been to just not respond to me, and I think that doesn’t demonstrate leadership capacity,” he said.

The criticism of Music Ambassador Barrow did not escape the attention of the Christian Workers Union (CWU) which represents some of the employees of NICH working at the Institute of Archeology. Last Thursday, the CWU issued a press release which said it “agrees with the comments made in recent days by Music Ambassador Mr. Shyne Barrow regarding NICH president, Ms. Sapna Budhrani.”

CWU release said its members were frustrated by the “extremely slow progress on proposals for better terms and conditions, insisted that CWU weigh in on Ambassador Barrow’s comment.”

The CWU release said that it too has experienced Budhrani’s failure to respond to its correspondence since her appointment. “Promised reforms, including salary scales with performance-based increments remain unfulfilled,” the union said.

“NICH staff has long spoken of a lack of proper accountability and transparency in the way the institute operates,” the CWU release added.

Staff at the sites speak of a hostile work environment where Budhrani is dismissive and disrespectful toward them.
The release said some staff have resigned rather than continue to endure the largely dead-end existence which NICH has thus far failed to ameliorate, as repeatedly promised.

The CWU release ends saying that its members are committed to the sustainability and success of NICH and will continue to d their part to ensure NICH accomplishes its mission.

The audit begins with cash that was collected at NICH sites, but was not reported to the Finance Unit. “The original document for cash collected cannot be found by the person who collected the cash,” said the audit, which went on to name David Griffith as the person who collected the cash, and “who told you he does not recall whom he has given the cash to.”

The report said that cash sales from Altun Ha for $1,315 from March 7 have not been recovered up to August 11. There is documentation that Griffith collected the cash, the report noted.

Then there is a missing $850 from the Belmopan concert that was held in April by the National Youth orchestra of Belize.

“Destroyed invoice book, missing petty cash for $117.95 and stolen NICH receipt book from SISE HOC,” said the report.

“Stolen water pump at Government House of Culture whilst a NICH security staff was on duty on the day of the burglary,” added the report.

The audit spoke of an unsupported expenses and cash sales for over $4,000 plus for an event held at San Pedro House of Culture and only a pittance of $265 was deposited into the NICH account.

“The audit analysis of fuel report from April to July 2018 show irregular use of fuel by Ms. Budhrani every month,” the audit report said.

According to the report, there are instances every month where Budhrani fuels a vehicle with 19 gallons of premium gasoline fuel and in less than 24 hours, the next day, Budhrani uses her fuel card to fuel an unknown vehicle with 21 gallons of regular gasoline.

“Ms. Budhrani does not report the mileage or the vehicle license plate fueled by her. Ms. Budhrani also fuels vehicles at odd hours, for example 11:30 p.m. Ms Budhrani is the exception to the rule which erodes accountability and transparency. There should be uniformity in management of fuel card use,” the audit said.

The audit stated that there have been stolen instruments from the Bliss that were donated by the Korean Embassy to the National Youth Orchestra of Belize, and it found it “disturbing” that such large pieces of instrument such as a bass pan and a pair of cymbals could go missing from the Bliss, where there are security present.

These irregularities have been reported to Budhrani, but there has been no action on her part.

The audit, approximately 7 pages, ends saying, “The concern is the ineffectiveness of Ms. Budhrani’s improper financial management of NICH and apparent lack of concern to address irregularities.”

Another aspect of concern for the auditor is the fuel used by NICH, which has a fleet of 17 vehicles, 2 private vehicles and 3 motorcycles.

The fuel budgeted in the accounting software from April to July 2018 is $26,533.32, but the actual fuel cost has exceeds the budgeted fuel cost by $59,163.13 for a total of $86,551.29, said the report.

NICH comes under the Ministry of Education, Youth and Culture and Hon. Patrick Faber rushed last week to Budhrani’s defense, expressing his confidence in her, notwithstanding the serious allegations that continue to be made about her managerial capabilities.

Referring to Music Ambassador Shyne Barrow’s comment about Budhrani, Minister Faber remarked, “All I’ll say on the matter is that it is unfortunate that those comments were made.”

He went on to say, “I often do my best, always do my best, to ensure that we have accountability and good capable leadership and I continue to say that I have utmost confidence in Sapna Budhrani’s leadership there. Now that leadership might not go well for some people who have an agenda and where it is that she is firm and trying to put in place good, strong policies that will uplift the institution. In the past we have had those issues of mismanagement and not having the proper accountability.”

Minister Faber added, “All I’ll say is that I will continue to have that kind of confidence in her leadership and again the comments made by the musical ambassador were rather unfortunate. Miss Budhrani does not operate on her own; there is an active board at NICH where she is given advice and in fact the president is answerable to the minister. So whatever they’re accusing Miss Budhrani of, they really should be accusing me of. And I can tell you, and again I think my record speaks, I am all about being accountable to the people and trying to ensure that those services are offered in the best possible way.”

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