VAT receipts often absent in Pharmacy of Your Choice payments, audit finds

FILE PHOTO: A pharmacy sign displays a temperature of 37 degrees Celsius in Marseille as a heatwave hits much of France, June 28, 2019. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier/File Photo

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

A large portion of payments made to pharmacies under the Pharmacy of Your Choice scheme was not covered by the appropriate fiscal receipts in an audit exercise carried out by the National Audit Office.

Nevertheless, the matter was not flagged by the POYC Unit, who failed to report the matter to the VAT authorities during the period under review.

The matter was flagged by the Auditor General in his latest annual report, published earlier this month and covering 2018. As part of its audit of the POYC system, the NAO tested a sample of 11 pharmacies, out of a total of 221.

During the period of the audit sample, the 11 pharmacies received a total of €451,997 in payments through the POYC. But more than 60% of these – €278,771 – were not covered by fiscal receipts.

In line with a circular issued by the Finance Ministry, government departments have to ensure that they receive fiscal receipts and to report suppliers who do not submit receipts to the VAT Department each month.

But the POYC Unit failed to flag these payments accordingly, even though its management acknowledged that such pharmacies were in default. The NAO received no indication that the issue had been addressed in time for the publication of its report.

he NAO flagged a number of issues with the scheme’s stocktaking through a sample of 17 medications dispensed through the POYC Unit. Discrepancies between the actual stock quantities and the stock records were found in 10 of these items, amounting to €297,120 in total.

The Auditor-General highlighted that the POYC Unit relied on pharmacies acting in good faith, as none of its staff verified that reported stock levels were accurate. Fast-moving medications were generally replenished without justification, and consequently, one could not determine whether such medication was being dispensed for free to those who were not entitled to it.

A lack of human resources was found to hinder the effective administration of the POYC scheme, a matter acknowledged by the POYC Unit, which reported that it has submitted a capacity building plan to the Health Ministry last February. The lack of an integrated IT system was also flagged, but a new system went live last March.