An audit of the General Relations (GR), International Business Development (IBD), Consular and Administration Programs was conducted in Caracas during the period October 28 to November 1, 2002. The last audit of the Mission was conducted in March 1994. Its scope of audit was limited to a follow-up of the previous year's Administration audit and a full review of the Consular Program.
The arrival of the new Head of Mission (HOM) and the Senior Trade Commissioner (STC) has brought a level of optimism to staff of the Mission that has not been seen in recent years. The HOM's arrival has introduced leadership to the organization, improved communication and provided a vision of where the Mission is headed.
The new HOM has, in his ten weeks at the Mission, been focussing on communications and improving team building and synergy. He has activated a number of committees which had been dormant and institutionalized weekly Committee on Mission Management (CMM) meetings whereby the minutes are circulated to all staff. A Wellness Committee has also been established, which includes both internal and external resources, with a mandate to improve the daily professional life at the Mission. In the short time since the HOM's arrival, there has been a noticeable improvement in staff morale.
The General Relations (GR) Program is providing political reporting that is analytical and informative. The Program Manager has a sound knowledge of Venezuela and has established an excellent array of contacts. The Academic Relations and Public/Cultural Affairs Program is active. Canada's profile could be further raised through a re-focussing of the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives and the Post Initiative Fund. Communications within the Program itself could also improve.
The IBD Program is under effective leadership with the new STC. The new STC is a strong proponent of the Trade Commissioner Service's New Approach and has already introduced a sound structure of management. Accountability Agreements have been established in consultation with all Officers to ensure commitment to the goals and objectives that have been defined for each of the key sectors.
The Consular Program, while staffed with knowledgeable and dedicated employees, lacks effective leadership. The Management and Consular Officer (MCO) is detached from the Program and has devolved its management to the Deputy MCO. Communications need to improve. Few meetings are held and there is no work plan for the Program. Emergency and Contingency Plans have not involved LES staff who believe these Plans, in light of the current political climate in the country, warrant review and rationalization. Many of the 21 wardens have not been contacted in several years.
In the summer of 2001, a changeover of all four Canada-based staff in Administration took place. The new MCO was faced with a Mission that had a history of serious financial problems, a new Chancery to manage and a difficult environment in which to operate, particularly with Venezuela's current political instability. An experienced Officer would have found the situation to be a formidable challenge. Program management is very inexperienced as the MCO, an AS-03, is on his first posting as Program Manager and is filling an AS-06 position. The Program can be best characterized as being "over-administered and under-managed". Headquarters must assume some responsibility for the current situation.
The Program is in need of more structured management and improved communications. Program management believes its workload is excessive even though resources are in line with Missions of similar size. Procedures require streamlining and staff need to work smarter and more effectively. Certain staff are not being fully utilized. The Program is seen as impeding rather than supporting the delivery of services in other Program areas. Much of management's attention has focussed on accounting issues. It was believed at the time of the audit that the Senior Accountant needed additional training and closer supervision.
Subsequent to the audit, as part of Mission management's efforts to resolve longstanding bank reconciliation issues (See 5.4.3 to 5.4.13), a fraud was discovered which resulted in the Accountant being dismissed for cause. The overall scope of the fraud is in the $1.9 to $2.1 million range. The final figure is subject to verification once the investigation is completed. Remedial action is being pursued aggressively before the courts and the Mission has taken the necessary measures to prevent a recurrence of this problem.
This report contains 50 recommendations, 49 of which are directed at the Mission to implement. Based on the responses received, the Mission has implemented 42 of the recommendations while the other seven are in various stages of being implemented. The recommendation directed at Headquarters for action is in the process of being implemented.
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There are Honorary Consuls in Margarita and Netherlands Antilles