The Clerk made the disclosure while giving evidence before the Commission of Inquiry (COI) recently.
As the accounting officer, the HOA’s Clerk is responsible for funds dispensed through the House and is required to, among other things, assess applications for public assistance brought by House members.
A 2009 internal audit report on the Assistance Grants Programme, noted that even though the Clerk is the accounting officer for the HOA, she lacked the necessary authority to make certain expenditure without the expressed consent of elected representatives.
Evans acknowledged that she was aware of this existing limitation since she was asked to manage the process of dispensing funds and ensuring necessary documents were intact, even though she had no final say in determining whether monies are paid out.
The Clerk said when she raised the issue in informal meetings, the response had essentially been, “even though she’s the Accounting Officer responsible for the funds, the Clerk does not dictate what I do with my money”.
The concerns were raised against the backdrop of an audit of the 2020 COVID-19 assistance grants initiative which found that applications were not properly vetted before funds were distributed through the HOA.
Legislators each received an additional $300,000 to their customary subvention, to offer assistance to residents negatively affected by COVID-19.
But according to the audit, although the assistance grant programme policy document requires each applicant to provide evidence of the type and amount of support being requested, approximately one-third of applications approved and paid were not supported by any evidence of the type and amount of the awarded assistance.
Evans told the COI she was short-staffed during the period, and was the only one able to process the many applications at the time.
“There were a myriad of things happening. People were frustrated,” Evans told the COI. “Members were hollering. I was the only person going through each application. I couldn’t see everything. We were just very overwhelmed with the situations.”
The Clerk recalled that it was a trying time and said she was trying her best to assist persons who were in dire need of assistance.
According to Evans, while she realised some applicants did not have the necessary documentation, persons were hurting at the time, so she tried her best to be humane and ensure that they got assistance.