The Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) today caught and admonished Agriculture Permanent Secretary Julius Shawa for giving conflicting statements.
This came to light after officials from the Auditor General’s Office observed that the answers which the government controlling officer was giving to members of the committee were different from the responses he gave during the time of the audits.
Acting Deputy Auditor General in charge of audits Pharlcy Phiri was the first one to note the variation in PS Shawa’s responses.
“I have got a concern on the responses we are getting now and the responses we got from the controlling officers on 31st August, 2017, there seem to be some variances. What was responded seem to be different now from what he has given us. I can give an issue of the same issue he has given to do with the overloading of [e-voucher] cards. The response we got on the first one stated that the ministry took note of the observation and they had written to agro-dealers to stop the transactions and the affected farmers had been contacted to repay the money. Now in his response, he is saying, it is not their responsibility, so I am failing to understand,” Phiri noted.
Phiri further said Shawa was putting his office in an awkward position by changing responses.
“It is the same as the one to do with…I think under Monze which is page 15, irregular deposits in Monze. The controlling officer says he has noted the findings however the 11 farmers allegedly deposited twice for the same corporative, did not actually deposit twice but once. The response we got before we finalised the report was that the ministry had noted the findings however this was as a result of some insincere farmers and the ministry had since written to the district to leave out these insincere farmers to stop benefiting in this coming season and blacklist them. So here we are being told no, they did not do this but in the earlier response we are being told that they discovered that they were not sincere and they would be left out. So we are having those different responses. Now it is like its putting us in an awkward position which is not correct,” Phiri said.
Meanwhile, committee deputy chairperson Brenda Tambatamba wondered whether the PS was trying to mislead committee.
In his defense, Shawa said the new submission was out of the follow-ups made with district officers after the main response submitted to the auditors.
“Definitely chair, we are not trying to mislead the committee. What we are presenting in the current responses are the buckles after the Auditor General’s report came out. I think they were all tasked to really clarify those matters. So this is like the latest picture chair. Maybe since it is about Monze, the PACO for Monze is here, he can also add something,” Shawa said.
Phiri again wondered whether the responses given to her office at the time of the audit were made without consultation with provincial officers.
“PS does it mean the responses you gave us earlier you did not involve these provincial heads? Because if they were involved at that time, definitely they should have given the correct answer and not now trying to vary. Unless these were just prepared from headquarters without involving the people that were visited on the ground,” Phiri said.
And Tambatamba concluded that Shawa did not involve his juniors when making the submission.
“Clearly, the auditors have done their job and you have given them a response and as the Auditor General puts it, this committee assumes that you did not consult everyone because you work as a team, are you saying you worked alone to respond to these issues which goes back to the issue of misleading this committee. Now you are bringing in new knowledge, new information contrary to what you had supplied at the earlier time when you were suppose to respond as a whole team?” Tambatamba asked.
In response, Shawa said the responses could have changed at different stages of consultation with provincial officials.
“Once a query arrives chair, we normally makes sure that all the affected districts and provinces are availed those queries and we do ask them ‘can you quickly respond because you are on the ground you know exactly what happens in which district and so forth. That is something that is given, now of course we do at various stages, we do get the draft queries from the Auditor General’s office and we reply. Even as we reply we are aware that the Auditor General is finalising the Auditor General’s report and so forth. I always press my colleagues to say we need to make sure that before the audit is finalising, can we give the correct answers and so forth. That is done chair but of course I believe the PACO can say it that when the Auditor General is finalising, we again circulate it to say ‘look, collectively can we provide the answers’,” Shawa said.
At this point, Solwezi west UPND member of parliament Teddy Kasonso said the committee would not tolerate any new information outside what was originally submitted to the Auditor General.
“PS, this committee is not interested in your new findings, this committee looks at what you provided to the Auditor General. The fresh information which you are giving this committee is unverified. Us here, sitting here, we do not consider information, no matter how truthful it is, which was not verified by the Auditor General. Are you aware about that? Chair, this committee should not be accepting fresh information which has not been verified by the Auditor General,” submitted Kasonso.
Tambatamba then asked the PS and his team to leave the room for a moment to allow the committee to go on recess.
Soon after a three-minute break, the committee resolved that the controlling officers from the ministry make a new submission to the Auditor General’s Office on the two issues in question.
“Regarding the overloading of cards and the irregular deposits for Monze, we will ask you to resubmit these to the Auditor General’s office so they can come through that channel again. So please do your resubmission that acknowledges what you submitted earlier and again you make a resubmission of the new submission that has just come through to your attention from the consultations from your team. But of course these are issues that arise from not engaging effectively with the auditor generals’ office at the time,” said Tambatamba.