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You are wasting our time, PAC sends back bluffing PSBy Sipilisiwe Ncube on 28 Nov 2017
The Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) today suspended its hearing of audit queries into Ministry of Works and Supply following a number of verbal retractions by the controlling officer after he had already submitted written documents.
Committee Chairperson Howard Kunda sent back Permanent Secretary Joe Kapembwa and his directors on grounds that the controlling officers were giving contradictory answers over questionable payments to a contractor. He ordered them to return with supporting documents on 18th December 2017 at 11:30 hours.
Kapembwa appeared before PAC to respond to the queries raised in the 2016 Auditor General’s report.
After reading and submitting the ministry’s response to the 2016 Auditor General’s queries before the committee, Kunda asked his committee members to ask questions of clarification; and it was not long before the controlling officers started struggling to give satisfactory answers.
Below is the summary of the question and answer session.
On page 2 regarding the grant aided institutions under hostels board, the air conditioners, I would like to find out from the controlling officers why they certified and paid for works that did not conform the contract terms?
This was an anomaly and should not have happened because normally what should happen is that only works that are according to specifications are suppose to be certified and paid for. Unfortunately in this situation, this did occur and the project manager was instructed to ensure that this was reversed and that the correct specified items were actually supplied.
We have seen that this has continued, as is the case even after this anomaly was brought to your attention, PS is it one of those things you have failed to address? And as PS, are you in charge of these issues that are suppose to be dealt with according to the specification as you have rightly stated. Are you in charge?
Yes chair, I am in charge as controlling officer and chair, this issue was brought to the attention of the immediate supervising officer at the Copperbelt provincial planning unit to ensure that action was taken against the erring officer.
So then what has happened now, could you please elaborate more on this issue. What has happened? Before you come in, Honuorable Munkonge?
I also take not that the information as been availed, there is a noticeable absence of communication between the contractor and the government. You know the communication we have here is actually in-house and there is one letter actually where the contractor is claiming for payment and that is that. There is nothing to show properly that there has been communication to the contractor to correct the works.
My follow-up question was the very fact that the contract document did not specify the unit cost of the items to be procured. What was the basis of the price? The unit costs are not specified in the document which indicate to us that the controlling officer was not in charge. So what was the basis of the pricing?
The unit costs were available and at the time that they were advertised, the various contractors that tendered for works do outline unit prices and this is the basis upon which the unit costs were arrived at. In terms of the communication, chair, I do wish to assure the committee that we did write to the contractor on a number of occasions.
We work with documents, we work with what is provided, so where are those documents including the unit costs, where is it stipulated that this is the amount that is supposed to have been used to purchase these aircons (air conditions)?
I do apologise that in the documentation that we have with us right now, we do not have those specific documents but we commit to make them available to your committee chair, I do apologise sincerely.
I think we are getting the feeling of the obstacles that the Auditor General office may have met during their exercise because this information was suppose to be availed to the Auditor General’s not to PAC, therefore you saying we can avail it to PAC, I don’t know. The minimum you should have done with this information should already have been here, so as far as we are concerned, this information doesn’t exists and therefore we are wondering how the contract can go on without this specifications, how was the contract awarded without the specification for pricing and agreeing on a lamp-sum?
This contract seems to be stinking. Why am I saying so? The contractor had written to your ministry to say he had completed the works in July and your ministry recommended for payments in June according to your own appendix number one. If you go to appendix number one, you find the letter from the contractor written on 17th July claiming K134,663,05. Another letter from the same contractor is written on 29th July 2016. Then the recommendation letter for payment from your ministry is on 22nd June 2016, so what comes first? Is it the completion or the payment?
Yes PS, those dates are confusing, could you please clarify on that?
Chair, let me ask my colleague to respond to that
Jeff Phiri – Acting Director for preventive maintenance:
Thank you Honourable chair and the committee, indeed that observation made by the Honourable member here is correct but what comes first is that the interim payment certificate which is certified by the district work supervisor is the one which outlines and gives instructions for us to make the payment and which is sent for us to process the payment.
But these are your letters, are you throwing out these letters to be not the truth, are you saying that?
The letters are true, we also wrote to the same contractor in line with what they had recommended for the supply because when this contract was awarded, all the units and the amounts are suppose to be for each of the air conditions that were quoted. So when the engineers certified that the works had been done in accordance and the certificate had been issued, that is when they have been sent to us so that we could effect the payments.
Yes but the question is on the dates, could you please be clear on the dates.
(Silent for a minute)
PS you are not ready! This is a show to us that you are not in charge even when you said you are in charge. Could you please address these concerns?
I will ask my colleague who actually does these works to just clarify, Mr Phiri please.
Honorable chair, there is a letter from the contractor dated 22nd June in appendix one, 22nd June, 2016 addressed to our district supervisor in which the contractor was claiming for payment stating that the works had been completed. And this came before the payment was effected.
Honourable Lumayi, maybe you can go back to the question so that maybe they can understand it.
I think if we followed the order of months, June comes first, second is July, am I right? Now the contractor had to write the claim of K134 thousand, this was in July, then you you had to recommend to pay him in June the same amount of K134,663. So I just want you to clear that air.
Chair, I think there are two different payments here. If you look at the claim dated 22nd June 2016, the amount is K143,191.52 whereas the certificate letter issued a month later dated 13th July 1016, was a total of K134 663. so I think this was a second interim payment.
Chair, I want my big boss to read the two letters, can you read the two letters. First letter is I think on appendix one, the second document, read that document and read the third document.
Chair I am just looking through, I will answer in due course.
So you are not ready to answer. PS, I think we can adjourn for five minutes so that you can be ready because it looks like your documents are all over.
AFTER 20 MINUTES
Are you ready PS?
Yes Chair. We have looked at the document and I wish to advise that the letter and the actual document which is signed 13th July are issued together. Now what may have transpired with the district work supervisor is that he made a mistake on the letter, on the date of the letter. It was actually issued on 13th July and not 22nd June as it is written in the document. If you see the stamps on both letters and the actual certificates are dated July. This is the reason why it appears as though he issued an instruction to pay in June as opposed to July.
I want just to ask two simple questions. The first one is that this is a relatively smaller document that you have come to submit, if that is what you are saying now, why didn’t you detect this anomaly before you came here? And secondly, if you want us to get that kind of answer, why should this committee take you serious on that one since this signature here is attesting to the date which is typed. This date stamp is of no consequence on this letter because this is a headed document and this date stamp can be affixed any time in the future. It is also possible to back-date a date stamp on a date stamp any day. Today we can stamp this document as 2nd January but you cannot change a date on a document which you typed. So this letter’s date, I am now putting it to you that 22nd June, why do you want to convince us that its another date?
I do agree with you that anybody looking at this document may argue in the manner that you have argued. But I wish to assure you that these two documents go together, they go hand in hand, the certificate itself and the letter. And therefore it is my belief that the district works supervisor erred in typing the date.
PS, is this your submission?
Chair it is
But you are referring to other people. When you were submitting, didn’t you say that this is your submission and you even signed at the end of your submission? PS I am asking you, please answer to that.
Chair, indeed I did submit the letter
And as a reader chair, when we first asked about this confusion on dates, they even gave us responses to say these documents are talking about two different things not the same thing. That is what Mr Phiri said. So I am now wondering whether as they were coming here they were serious or they were just saying ‘pull those documents, let’s go. Are you now retracting your statement? Because your statements are on record
Yes Mr Phiri, you said these are not the same letters and they are talkimg about two different payments, are you sticking to your earlier submission or you are retracting?
I would like to retract because as you have correctly noted, the letter under issue, the one from the contractor dated 22nd June was the contractor’s claim for the payment which was done on that certificate. I retract my earlier submission.
PS, I think that we will not be able to continue with this submission because in your submission on page 4, you have referred to a letter. This letter has not been provided, we cant see it and a lot more other things. I think that we would need to request you to go back and prepare nicely. You also come with the people who are responsible for these works, the contracts for example your provincial leadership that is there. So if you can go back, prepare nicely and come with the procurement team. So if you can just stand down and and we will be waiting for you to come back on Monday 18th December. And please you need to come with all the relevant documents. We should not waste time here. Thank you very much for appearing before this committee and we are looking forward to seeing you on 18th like I said, and immediately you leave this room, your immunity is lifted and whatever you say out there, you are on your own and it is up to you. Thank you very much PS.
The Public Accounts Committee is composed of Muchinga constituency member of parliament Howard Kunda (chair), Kasempa member of parliament Brenda Tambatamba, Nkana member of parliament Alexander Chiteme, Chavuma member of parliament Victor Lumayi, Choma central member of parliament Cornelius Mweetwa, Solwezi west member of parliament Teddy Kasonso, Lukasha constituency member of parliament Mwenya Munkongwe, Milenge meber of parliament Mwansa Mbulakulima, Mkushi North member of parliament Doreen Mwape, and Nsenga hill member of parliament Kapembwa Simbao.
About Sipilisiwe Ncube
Sipilisiwe Ncube is a Zambian journalist with a background in radio news.
Email: sipilisiwe [at] diggers [dot] news
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