The United Nations High Commission for Refugee (UNHCR) headquarters in Geneva, through their internal auditors, the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), has faulted their local office in Uganda for flauting laid down procurement procedures, which exposed the refugee agency to inefficiencies, lack of accountability and inability to realise value for money from procurement.
The audit on UNHCR’s procurement was occasioned by claims of abuse of resources meant to sustain refugees in Uganda that surfaced last year.
It found that in some instances, goods were supplied before invoicing, and staff and management were also found to have procured goods and services above their limit.
The flauting of UNHCR procurement procedures was made known after auditing UNHCR operations in the country from July 2016 to December 31, 2017, where it provided service to 1,350,504 refugees and asylum seekers.
The audit looked at five areas of UNHCR operations among which was partnership agreements, procurement and vendor management, registration activities, construction activities, and non-food items distribution and ware housing.
“During the audit period, UNHCR paid for goods and services worth $34.6 million (Shs128.5b) without the required approvals from the Local Contracts Committee (LCC), the Headquarters Committee on Contracts (HCC) or the Regional Committee on Contracts (RCC),” says the OIOS report.
The 41-page report released in October last year, shows that UNHCR paid $24.6 million (Shs91.4b) for various goods and services but the purchase orders were prepared only after receiving the invoices.
The auditors further found that although UNHCR had procurement plans for 2016 and 2017, they were not followed while procuring service contracts, leases, fuel for programme vehicles, transportation services and drugs and medicines.
The auditors identified 13 cases where amounts approved by the LCC exceeded the authority of the committee.
Although UNHCR procured goods and services worth $69 million (Shs256.4b), during the audit period, OIOS sampled 37 purchase orders valued at $13.8m (Shs51.2b) and found that only $6.2m (Shs23b) were procured through competitive bidding.
According to the report, the agency allowed transporters to quote round trips while transporting refugees from reception centres to settlements by bus and truck at a cost of $5.6m (Shs20.8b).
For example, from Elegu to Palorinya, the round-trip invoiced by different transporters varied from 240 kilometres to 330 kilometres. Using Google map, the audit team calculated the distance as 101 kilometres which is 202 kilometres for a round-trip.
Transporters slapped the agency with a $90m (Shs334b) budget, UNHCR has only managed to pay $27m (100.3b) and the rest is still being disputed.
Although the agency reasoned that they did not have skilled staff for emergency procurements, OIOS refused to buy this argument, saying similar weaknesses in procurement had been raised in previous audits.
Even when UNHCR rules require issuance of purchase orders for goods and services above $4,000 (Shs14.8m), the agency signed contracts with several vendors initially at values under $20,000 (Shs74.3m) and eventually totaling to $27m (Shs100.3b). The contracts committee at UNHCR headquarters in Geneva refused to honor the payment because the contract had been executed without documentation.
UNHCR was also faulted for processing purchase orders in MRPS amounting to $23m (Shs85.4b) after the relevant invoices were received.