- Questionable bill was reduced from P12m to P6.2m
What initially seemed like a windfall for Avani Resort & Casino has suddenly turned into a nightmare, as the luxury hotel now finds itself under investigation by the country’s top security agencies on suspicions of overcharging government.
Appearing before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) last week, Clerk of the National Assembly Barbara Dithapo, who is the Accounting Officer for Parliament, revealed that the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) and Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS) were investigating Avani after it submitted questionable and exorbitant bills for providing accommodation to Members of Parliament (MP’s) and their spouses.
Upon ascending to the Legislature, the MPs and their spouses were temporarily housed at the luxury resort as their official Parliamentary residence was still under renovation. Avani later slapped Parliament with a P6.2 million bill for accommodation and meal expenses accrued between 31 October 2019 and 20 December 2019. A PAC examination and audit later highlighted possible irregularities in the bill.
“Subsequent to the last PAC examination and an audit which also picked the issue, investigating authorities took up the matter to check if we were billed correctly and whether there were no irregularities. They worked closely with members of staff who were involved in the matter. I believe these officers are competent enough to find anything that my administrative eye or capacity might have overlooked,” Dithapo told the PAC.
The Parliamentary Clerk also revealed that she queried the bill the first time it was presented by Avani. After receiving the initial bill of P12 million, Dithapo requested a meeting with Avani General Manager Allan Clingham with the intention of demanding a detailed breakdown. The bill was later reduced to P9million. Still dissatisfied, Dithapo directed her staff to itemize the bill to ensure that there was no possibility of overbilling. The figure eventually came down to around P8 million, which according to her was still questionable. After further negotiations with the hotel management, the bill was brought down to P6.2 million, which government paid on 17 March 2020.
A review of the invoice attached to the bill revealed that 50 percent of the total accommodation and meal costs were described as ‘no show’ meaning that some MP’s did not use the accommodation that was provided for them. “The ‘no show’ cost was an opportunity cost for Avani as the hotel would have otherwise lost business if they were not billed. Had the rooms not been block booked, the hotel would have availed them to other paying clients,” Dithapo explained to the PAC.