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UDP fat cats feed off PUC

BELIZE CITY, Wed., Jan 3, 2018– An audit report of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) that was leaked to the media, has revealed that the finances of that statutory body have been handled in a grab-tub manner: millions of dollars disappeared, which suggests that the finances of the regulatory body were not scrupulously managed.

The audit report was completed last summer by Cedric Flowers, a Certified Public Accountant, and a copy of its findings has been provided to Prime Minister Dean Barrow, and John Avery, the Chairman of the PUC. The audit covers the period up to the end of March 2017.

In a letter dated August 17, 2017, addressed to PUC Chairman Avery, Flowers questioned the lack of cooperation in providing certain “audit evidence” for which several requests had been made. The letter added, “It is important for us to advise that failure to provide the auditors with complete audit evidence may constitute a limitation of scope which may have implications for our opinion and report.”

In a letter to Flowers, however, the Chief Financial Officer of the PUC insists that “The financial statements referred to above are fairly presented in conformity with International Financial Reporting Standards. We have made available to you all financial records and related data.”

Flowers’ letter to Avery characterized as “unapproved donation,” over $50,000 that the PUC had listed as donations, for which there had been no approval from the Commission. “We noted over $50,000 in donations for which we found no evidence of approval by the Commission. We are seeking specific representation, that those donations were properly authorized by the Commission,” Flowers’ letter told Avery.

In addition to the large sums that were listed as “donation”, the auditors questioned over $70,000 in credit card charges. “We noted over $70,000 in expenditures for credit card purchases which were either unsupported, or lacked appropriate support. We saw no request or authorization for those expenditures before the transactions were initiated,” the letter said.

Apart from the letter to Chairman Avery, there were also the notes and management letter addressed to the Prime Minister. In this document, Flowers noted, “The chairman does not like to receive all licenses but instead allows BEL issues of holding $2.9 million in BEL revenues and not deposited to hide from Financial Secretary as this money is to be used for the PUC building. He noted on his own that he was being stressed by certain commissioners who probably has direct interest in the contract for the building.”

The audit also noted that the budget was not approved as stipulated in the PUC Act; actually, operations in 2016 were carried out without a budget.

For the last 8 years, the auditors noted, the PUC credit card expenses were hovering around $75,000 per year. “As the auditors noted, some of these expenses referred to non-PUC business, e.g., Riverside Tavern, Barcelo Tours, Macy’s, Kahana Boutique, Royal Caribbean Cruise, Perry Ellis etc. $272,000 paid out since 2008 in credit card expenses,” stated Flowers.

The audit found that the ten persons listed as PUC commissioners, and the PUC’s chairman, Avery, were handsomely paid a total of $4,505,694.83 from 2008 to August 2017, when the audit was done. Traveling expenses for PUC commissioners amounted to $1,043,805.10.

Avery was paid $412,841.58 for commission meetings alone. His total earnings from the PUC, which includes travel expenses, was $1,505,509.21.

But what really turned the eyes of people reviewing the audit, were the sums paid out to some persons who functioned solely as commissioners of the PUC. Kimano Barrow, a nephew of Prime Minister Barrow, raked in a whopping $413,250 for meetings and earned a total of $843,067.20. Michael Peyrefitte pulled in $188,248.60 for attending meetings, and total earnings of $438.025.34.

The PUC, according to what was uncovered by the audit, paid $950,000 for 13 acres of land that was purchased from someone named Thomas Shaw. That breaks down to $80,000 per acre. Then it paid another $300,000 for filling 3 out of the 13 acres.

The PUC also paid out over $87,000 for architectural work done by Bernard Santos, who it later fired, and it disbursed an additional $225,000 to a new architect who was hired.

The audit also found that PUC vehicles which were only four years old were disposed of in a fire-sale manner and sold to staff members and commissioners for a pittance of $1,500 and $2,000, when the proper market value could have been obtained.

The PUC gave out $1.1 million in donations since 2008, prompting the auditors to state, “Donations need to be reviewed carefully with proper approval. Some donations approved by the commission were for over $1,000.”

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