A Parliamentary Public Accounts sub-Committee on Thursday sent away a team of controlling officers from the Ministry of General Education for submitting responses to 2009 audit queries without attaching supporting documents.
Appearing before the said committee, General education Permanent Secretary Administration Dr Felix Phiri recommended the matter for closure despite no action taken against the erring officers who failed to avail the missing payment vouchers of monies amounting to K11,405,191,973 unrebased.
“On missing payment vouchers for amounts worth K11,405,191,973, the ministry is trying to identify officers who failed the avail the missing payment vouchers with a view of taking disciplinary action where necessary. The committee may consider closing the matter. Inadequately supported payments of K1,549,531,007. The committee may wish to be informed that the ministry is making efforts to locate the supporting documents. Further, the ministry is trying to identify the officers who failed to produce the supporting documents with a view of taking disciplinary action where necessary. The committee may consider closing the matter,” Dr Phiri submitted.
But Lukasha independent member of parliament Mwenya Munkonge said it was not possible to close the matter before proper action was taken against erring officers.
“I think there is a misunderstanding with the use of the term ‘to consider closing the matter’. I think it comes out when we conclude an issue. With your response, speaking of the future action, it’s impossible for us to consider the issue for closure. In the same vain about the inability to find people who are involved in this because usually the interaction between the Auditor General’s office and the respective departments, everybody involved has to sign off. So literally if you are looking for people who are involved, all you have to do is ask the auditor general’s office and they will give you the people who signed off at that time. The auditor general cannot accept information without somebody accepting the responsibility of providing that information. So to come and explain that you are still trying to trace people, is not an excuse. We should take the exercise more serious if we are going to close issues from an accounting point of view. So the information should be given to us the way you would give it to the auditor general. So my question to you now is do you have adequate reasons to tell us that we should conclude the issue?” Munkonge asked.
Committee chair, Solwezi West member of parliament Teddy Kasonso, was angered by Phiri’s response and observed that the ministry’s submission was lacking supporting documents and appendixes.
“Before I ask other members to speak, your report here has got no attachments, no appendixes to refer to [in order] to strengthen your case of closure. If you look at the amount that you are recommending to be closed off, K11 million rebased is a lot of money which you cannot just consider like that without due effort,” Kasonso observed.
Meanwhile, Senga Hill PF member of parliament Kapembwa Simbao said looking at the submission by the ministry, one could tell that the officers were not ready to appear before the committee.
“Dr Phiri, did you really read this submission that you have made to us? I have gone up to page 23 I think and your action and your recommendations are not correlating. Even yourselves if this action was to be presented before you definitely you would think the people that are presenting before you are not serious. Now if you read this submission really, do you think you qualify to come to a committee like this one? Because you are talking about K11 billion and you want us to close that without telling us the evidence that this money has been recovered. I mean you yourselves know that it’s not possible. So did you really commit yourselves before coming to us?” Simbao asked.
In defense, Dr Phiri the ministry would begin tracing the officers involved in the missing of documents.
“I think the use of the recommendation, that’s where I think the clarification has been made. That is where we have to align ourselves to adjust in terms of the use of that term and the true meaning of it. Indeed I did go through the submission that we are making today. On the matter that has been raised, chair you will note that in our previous submission, the focus has largely been on just tracing or trying to find the documents. So what we are now trying to do as a ministry is that rather than just continuously focus on looking for the document, we may also now start looking at who basically was involved in this matter,” Dr Phiri said.
“So that that part also should be addressed. So this is the approach that the ministry wants to engage. Not withstanding the fact that the matters have taken quiet a long time. So indeed we will also as a way of identifying the officer who were involved get to the auditor general where we cannot find the information within the ministry, noting that they actually did audit this. But in some instances of missing payment vouchers, they may not specifically be named in the auditor report. This means that we will need to do a further assessment and an exercise within the ministry in looking at the very missing payment document and who are the officers who were in custody of these documents that were missing.”
Kasonso then requested for a five minutes break to allow the committee deliberate on the ministry’s submission before concluding.
After the break, Kasonso then asked the controlling officers to go back and make a fresh submission in June and attach all the necessary documents.
“PS, looking at your responses from page one up to page 23 is rather uniform. We think that we are not going to proceed. We will allow you time to go back and work strongly with the auditor general because really you were not even suppose to come here, these things are not suppose to come to us. You are recommending almost on everything closure. Closure can only be agreed with the auditor general’s office. Those matters which we are not going to be able to agree, then you are going to appear before this committee in June when parliament starts sitting and the date will be communicated to you,” Kasonso said.
He urged the PS and his team to attach the same seriousness it attaches which they attach when submitting to the main PAC committee.
“However, your submission or starting with that process should be end of March, to submit to the auditor general. And also, we are not happy with the way this report has been presented. No attachments, no appendixes, you must ensure that there are sufficient attachments, just like the way you present to the main committee of PAC. Nothing is deducted from the way the presentation is made. Particularly the chief accountant, listen carefully, the way you present to Public main Accounts Committee, this is the way you present to the sub-committee. We have taken it to this decision because we have taken into account that the PS is a new officer in this ministry but however, the rest of you are senior officers of the ministry. So, the amounts involved are also colossal. This committee cannot agree with you to close most of the items which you are coming up with just like that when there is no effort on your part,” said Kasonso.
“By the way, these ones we are considering is 2009 or beyond 2009 to 2011. There is another exercise, 2012 to 2014 which we just completed which we are going to look at. And also we must be very clear to you, these outstanding matters or issues should be addressed with the same seriousness the way you address the issues that you bring before the public Accounts Committee. So please just ensure that the presentation is in order, sufficient appendixes, references, certificates in terms of infrastructure of completion or payments, if need be, if some people died, if it is possible, [bring] death certificates because we don’t want to have a situation where we start meeting some of these officers that you are recommending that they are dead, we meet them in Cairo road, it will be disgraceful. So we want details or actions on your part and the details of seriousness.”