Acting General Education Minister Vincent Mwale says the ongoing clean up of financial irregularities that led to the suspension of Permanent Secretary Henry Tukombe at the ministry has also seen 80 other staff being suspended, while donors have still withheld funding to the sector.
And Mwale warned that if there will be any need for government to recover the embezzled funds, it will be recovered through benefits and other outstanding dues.
Responding to a written question from Chinsali PF member of parliament Kalalwe Mukosa in Parliament, Wednesday, Mwale said all the suspended staff were from the Ministry headquarters in Lusaka.
“The suspended officers were cited for financial irregularities in the forensic audit conducted by the Office of the Auditor General on the verification of responses by the Ministry of General Education on the draft audit report paragraph 52 of the Auditor General’s report for the year ended 2016. The suspension will remain in force until disciplinary procedures are conducted,” Mwale said.
Asked why the Ministry had to wait for donor insinuations that there was something amiss in the Ministry for action to be taken, Mwale replied: “Mr Speaker, action against erring officers did not have to wait for donors. Perhaps the member may have learnt about this after some donors begin to talk about it, but internally within government cycles, there were procedural issues that were still ongoing to ensure that we deal with those who were involved in this.”
Asked if among the 80 suspended officers also included some internal auditors who could not take up the matter on time, Mwale admitted in the affirmative:
“Mr Speaker, I can confirm that, yes, some internal auditors were involved in that they did not do their work to prevent this from happening. They are also on suspension. Mr Speaker, definitely, funds that were meant to advance education in this case were tampered with and that has had an impact to some extent. It may seem to be a small percentage, but however small, it is true that there is some impact on education and government is taking corrective measures.”
Mwale also revealed how much money was embezzled in the controversial case.
“Mr Speaker, the forensic audit that was done by the Auditor General up to 26th September, 2018, established that a total of K19.5 million was embezzled by the members of staff at the Ministry. Mr Speaker, from what I am seeing here, it’s mostly members of staff at the headquarters. It’s those at the headquarters and one of them got transferred to Ndola to work at the DC’s office, but was at the headquarters when these things happened [so] yes, headquarters, Mr Speaker,” Mwale explained.
And when asked if the embezzlement had affected donor support to pull out like it was the case with the Ministry of Community Development, Mwale, again, concurred.
“Mr Speaker, yes, I can confirm that DfID [Department for International Development] actually withheld funding to the Ministry to just make sure that we did our work to clean up these things and make sure that those that were involved in embezzlement and misappropriation and so on were dealt with accordingly, and that after all that was done, we could talk about how they could resume to give financial assistance to the Ministry. Measures have already been undertaken to make sure that nothing suffers as a result of having 70 people suspended and I think operations are moving on smoothly at the Ministry headquarters; everything is moving on well, there are some staff that have been seconded from other line ministries to make sure that nothing suffers,” Mwale disclosed.
And Mwale, who is substantively Local Government Minister, pledged that government would recover the embezzled funds if need be.
“Mr Speaker, in accordance with the laid down procedures, where we have to recover, we have to recover, and in where people have to be punished by going to jail and so on, where there is no requirements for us to recover, everything is laid down in the procedures and in the Public Finance Act. Definitely, if we need to recover, we will have to recover from the benefits and anything that may be outstanding within the Ministry that’s due to them,” vowed Mwale.