A financial audit conducted on the Hol Chan Marine Reserve Office has revealed the misuse and mismanagement of over four million dollars. Today the Ministry of the Blu Economy and Civil Aviation hosted a press conference at Hol Chan Marine Reserve Office on Ambergris Caye. The sole purpose of the press conference was to reveal the results of the audit. Island Correspondent Jorge Aldana was present and filed the following report.
Jorge Aldana, San Pedro Correspondent: The funds of the Hol Chan Marine reserves were plundered and misused, that is what a preliminary audit commissioned by the Ministry of the Blue Economy and Civil Aviation on the funds of Belize’s popular and largest marine reserve revealed. Leading the explosive revelation was the Minister of the Blue Economy and Civil Aviation Andre Perez.
Hon. Andre Perez, Minister of the Blue Economy and Civil Aviation: “It was found that major capital expenditure of $2.5 million dollars showed an increase of a million dollars from one year to the next and appeared not to have been fully approved by the board and the cost incurred were not monitored to safeguard cash flows and assets of the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. The Hol Chan Marine Reserve is currently debt strapped with a $394,000 loan plus $115,000 in overdraft to the Belize Bank and $50,000 overdraft due to Atlantic Bank. The total debt exposure is $559,000 and income is below the $200,000 mark. There was no formal nor approved internal control policies and procedures that management was obliged to follow which made the organization susceptible to fraud and significant loss over time. There were no adequate checks and balance at the accountant and there were no budgetary controls in place. Evidence during the audit period were a) return checks, staff receivables and other assets left on the balance sheet without any support – this has led to the loss of $55,000 as these will have to be written off. B) there are large receivable balances of $79,000 that have not been pursued and potentially lead to write off of bad debts. C) In conducting assessment verification tests the audit team has been unable to fully verify $854,000 worth of assets which the HCMR purchased over the previous three years. There was evident abuse of management about the pay of rental expenses for the executive director and other members of the management team when not authorized by contract or by board, the total of such expenses amounted to $40,050 over three years. There was also apparent abuse of the staff loan privilege where the auditor saw no system loans to the executive team and other staff members. As a result there is a staff loan balance of $58,557 due from the former executive alone at the end of March 2020. During the review of 2017 to 2018 the auditors were able to detect a potential fraud in the amount of $636,843, this resulted from the analysis of visitor logs compared to actual amounts recorded in the general ledger after adjustments. Based on the preliminary audit work performed up to March 20 alone the key areas of potential loss and cash flow mismanagement amounts to a grand total of $1,747,455 in potential loss and and estimated $4 million in potential mismanagement of the HCMR funds.”
Jorge Aldana, San Pedro Correspondent: While Perez outlined the preliminary findings he said that it is his government’s commitment to investigate, pluck out corruption and a call against criminal wrong doings.
The Ministry of the Blu Economy is responsible for the oversight of all marine reserves in Belize including the Hol Chan Marine Reserve.