The Parliamentary Committee on Local Government Accounts was on Friday disgusted by the level of theft cited at Kasama Municipal Council.
A case in point was where a cashier, who was only authorised to draw cash amounting to K11,100, drew K17,100 without approval.
And the committee, chaired by Elijah Muchima, recommended that the financial irregularities involving the named council be taken to Parliament since the council had failed to take appropriate action.
In defence, Kasama Municipal Council Town Clerk Mateyo Mbao said it was difficult to take action against some of the officers as most of them were no longer with the local authority.
According to findings by the Office of the Auditor General, it was also revealed that the local authority failed to recover salary advances amounting to K35,474 involving 14 transactions paid to four officers.
The council also paid K40,235 from the Lukashya Constituency Development Fund (CDF) account to a supplier to supply building material when the supplier failed to deliver on time.
The AG Report further cited that the same local authority paid amounts totalling to K115,774 from the Lukashya constituency account for seven projects when the money was supposed to be paid from the Kasama Central constituency account.
But Mbao defended the council, saying: “On the issue of recoveries and other monies that have been misapplied or misappropriated, action had been taken. This matter was reported last year immediately the auditors brought this matter to our office. As you may be aware, chair, we reported this matter to the council, for the council to approve our action so that we have backing of the resolution of the council.”
Committee Chairperson Muchima, however, wondered if the controlling officers were qualified enough to do council work.
“Was your action enough? Why are you giving in to recoveries? Are you satisfied with the actions? You sit in the office, superintending matters with the council every day. He said from page one up to the back page there are abuses of pure theft, fraudulent. There is an issue of K19,000 when the cheque, which was authorised was K11,000. He went and overdrew. He didn’t even wait for the council to approve, there is normal procedure that has to be followed, but yourselves, its chibeleshi as usual, uncle, nephew, no, you will pay back. That is what is happening here. Are you qualified enough to do the council work?” Muchima asked.
Mbao responded by saying he was qualified, but lumped the blame on officers who he said were no longer working for the council.
“Thank you honourable chair, yes I am qualified to run this position, and I mentioned in my presentation that some of the officers that are cited in this report are no longer with us at Kasama,” Mbao responded.
Muchima, however, demanded to know why the local authority had not taken interest to follow up the transferred officers and to hold them accountable.
“[To the] contrary, that is not a good reason. Even if you leave office today, I can give [an] example of myself. I left government office long ago, if I go and I am accused of something, I would be followed anywhere. They will not say ‘you see, Honourable Muchima is no longer with us’, that will not arise. Wherever you came from before you came to Kasama, all your audits there can simply follow you. What we are saying is, why haven’t you followed up all these cases? These matters are too serious if you start from page one to the end. These are millions of kwachas. We are not being serious councils to be honest, most of the people have worked in government but with councils, especially Kasama, it’s a serious one. These are serious anomalies and when I look at this report, because even if we went page by page, it’s not helping us. This report we need to present it to Parliament and it requires serious action. The council’s action is not sufficient enough,” Muchima insisted.
Another committee member, Emmanuel Mulenga, added to Muchima’s question, asking why the local authority transferred problems from one council to another.
“And also, the issue of the Local Government Service Commission, they will come before us, transferring somebody after stealing like that to another municipal council or another district council. That is transferring a problem. Those people are supposed to be in here, that is their place. And Kasama Municipal Council, I want to tell you that we are very disappointed because all the issues are just stealing. And I sympathise with the Kasama Municipal Council because there is no service delivery in those constituencies because the people that have been entrusted to handle the public resources are busy stealing everything. It’s unfortunate Honourable Sampa, your officers are just amassing themselves, they are putting everything in their pockets, which is unfortunate. Something should be done,” Mulenga said.
And Mbao assured the committee that he would take action as advised by the committee.
“My predecessor and, of course, the predecessor for director of finance, were transferred to Lusaka [City] Council and, of course, the commissioner acted on them. My predecessor was moved in the capacity of the director because of these issues. Equally, the director of finance was moved to a lower position. And just for assurance, chair, is that following your guidance, we will follow these issues and act as you have directed us,” assured Mbao.