North Western Province Permanent Secretary, who is also former Inspector General of police, Ephraim Mateyo today begged Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) Chairperson Howard Kunda to exercise leniency on him as a first offender.
This was after it was revealed that North Western Province used funds intended for the financing of Provincial activities to sponsor Provincial Minister Richard Kapita’s trips to and from Lusaka for Cabinet meetings.
The development angered members of the PAC committee who complained that that was not the first time that North Western Province was going to appear before the Committee with the same mistakes.
After reading and submitting the ministry response to the 2016 Auditor General’s queries before the committee, the Chairperson asked members to ask questions of clarification and Milenge member of parliament Mwansa Mbulakulima was first.
“PS, last year we belaboured these issues of misapplication and we thought we had put it to rest, if you recall, you had more than K821 544 of the general deposit funds which included funds for constructing Chiefs palaces and this year, we are doing the same issue of misapplication of funds. This year the misapplication of funds has even gone up to K1.2 million which is actually K1.3 million. Now, the original purpose was for community development, forestry and social welfare but the funds were applied to administrative duties such as Parliamentary work and yet there were more pressing issues. Now, in your submission which I find not in tune on page two, you have said that the controlling officer is in charge of funds released under the Head 97.Therefore, funds for activities such as budgeting and capturing of estimates are drawn from various departments because they cut across all the departs under its charge. Chairperson I find this to be out of tune, meaning there is no remorse. So you can play around with the funds the way you feel like because you are the controlling officer and yet the Public Finance Act clearly stipulates how public funds should be spent,” Mbulakulima said.
“Now can you show this committee the values that you used to evaluate the money because you were under pressure as explained but you are an expert in public finance so indicate to us just three efforts that you made to the Secretary to the Treasury wanting to vary the resources because you were under pressure? Then you have also said that you are in charge of funds released, but who else is in charge of looking for resources for the Province? Because if you are in charge of spending, then you are also in charge of bringing the money.”
Chair, in response to the observation raised by the honourable Mbulakulima. There are times when we experience very pressing problems like for example if the minister is required to come to Cabinet meetings here in Lusaka, because this time they were coming to Cabinet meetings. I thought it to myself (I might have thought wrongly) that it was an urgent issue to facilitate the movement of the minister to come to attend to these national issues in the hope that next month, funding was going to be provided to the Province and reimburse… I think that is exactly the position that I can give you.
I would like to go a bit further than the controlling officer in this case. Sir, where was the internal auditor for this Province because the internal auditor should have stopped this payment to allow funds to be released and used by the minister to come to Lusaka to attend meetings? You knew that you had not obtained authority. You should be the first advisors to the PS, you are not helping him. So PS the defence you are giving is not sufficient, you had a very good reason to seek for authority from the Secretary to the treasury but you did not and it appears to me that your officers are not helping you. So the committee here is saying why didn’t you seek authority when you had a good reason of not being funded?
Acting provincial principle accountant John Kalumba:
“The problem of erratic funding started in 2015 and slipped over into 2016. We do not have any evidence that we wrote to the Secretary to the treasury to vary the funds, but even the Secretary to the Treasury would throw out that request and this is the reason why we couldn’t write to the treasury because we had a view in 2016 that when the funds will be available, we are going to cover the funds which we are going to use.
Director accountant Kalumba:
Actually, I am at loss of words when it comes to the issue under discussion because the regulations are clear and from the observations that have been made by the honourable members, it’s not an option to follow regulations and clearly if you have financial challenges as a Province, the financial regulations act gives you the procedure to follow and if it’s an issue of emergency nature or whether its just a normal situation, procedure is there and we are supposed to adhere to the regulations stipulated in financial regulations act which we didn’t do in this case. So what my colleague is putting up might not be defence, I am sorry.
PAC Chairman Kunda:
PS is that the kind of advice you are getting from your officer who is supposed to advice the way things are supposed to go according to the regulations, is that the kind of advice you are getting from your officers?
Chair Sir, it’s very very difficult to respond to your observation because these are the officers that are operating within my office. Expect, as honourable Kasonso has said, to get the best out of them. I think it was just maybe the language and lack of experience from my officer.
PS, do you understand the financial irregularities yourself?
Sir, it’s very difficult to say yes or no but these are acts we always read but its circumstantial situations where you are confronted with a situation which leads you definitely to really go out of bounds and do what you may consider to respond to a government request or directive from State House to say the minister is required.
Yeah, we understand that PS you can do variations, you can vary the funds but there is a procedure to follow and that procedure is to obtain the authority from the treasury before you do so using the money… Planner, do you understand the financial regulations?
Planner Chabu Mundewe:
I would say yes and I would say no but what I know is that every time you want to vary, we like to do it this way.
Nkana MP Alexander Chiteme:
I don’t know if I am disappointed or just upset because the PS seated here was here again when we were discussing the same Auditor’s report and this misapplication for funds was very much active and paramount and I was belabouring just like I am doing today and I even asked that same day if he had capacity to organise the members of is province and he agreed that he had the capacity. I am so disappointed that we could have a lukewarm answer of saying ‘maybe I understand or maybe I don’t’ I think that is a bit disappointing and to say that the application to the treasury was overlooked.
PS, why is it that we are going to be talking about the same things and it is not changing? And now we are talking about the financial act which we talked about even last time you appeared on this committee.
Nsenga Hill MP Kapembwa Simbao:
I have been wondering as to why North Western Province has been addressed in the manner other Provinces have been addressed when it has been said that the Province was underfunded with only 34 per cent. Has the PS bothered to find out from finance why he has not been fully funded and ended up in this problem?
As much as they are directed to me sir here we are working as a team, maybe my planner has an observation, on top of that. May I have your permission sir to engage him?
No, the permission is not granted because we want you to address these issues. These are very serious issues PS, especially on this one where the Province is not receiving funding.
Honourable Chair, the funding towards North Western is always inadequate and they are always saying that the money at the treasury is not enough. We haven’t been quite idle, no sir. We have been presenting these issue at our meetings as PSs and we have also been presenting as to why this commitment to say that North Western will receive K30 million but you find that down the line Sir you don’t receive even any allocation for maybe three months. For example I may go out of bounds, we have two districts that have been created, as I am talking to you Sir, we have been to ministry of finance thats is Mushindamo and Kalumbila where Honourabel Kasonso is member of parliament. We have been requesting for treasury authority. The minister of the province has been sitting with Honourable Mutati on a number of occasions, we have written, I have written to finance.
Are you able to provide that information to show us because we want to help you.
Yes, I am ready that I can provide because there is a writing to that effect anf there has been no response. To the treasury in fact the minister was even promising that the treasury was going to be written to but nothing has happened to now.
PS, we have heard you and I think you should also start adhering to some of our recommendations before we start evoking some of the provisions.
Thank you Chair, I think we have heard and going forward I promise you that we are going to adhere to the recommendations for the committee but please forgive us and for me in particular because I am a first offender. And when a person admits and pleads guilty, what follows next is sentence, so we are sorry please have leniency on me.
We have heard you, please switch off your microphone and I would want to start spending time with your officer so that you understand some of these things.