Lusaka Province deputy permanent secretary Josephat Lombe and four accounting officers have been suspended after an audit report revealed shocking mismanagement of millions of kwacha.

The suspended accounts officials are Grace Mwenya, who is the principal accountant, Psela Banda, Gideon Zulu and Nzewa Chumbu.

According to records obtained by News Diggers! among the most glaring irregularities were that the five officers paid themselves meal and subsistence allowances in amounts totalling K973,475 for carrying out various activities over days ranging from 612 to 732 days, which is way over the number of days in one calendar year.

The records obtained show that Lombe alone was paid subsistent and meal allowances totalling K275,750 over a period of 732 days out of 365 calendar days, translating into an excess of 367 days. Mwenya also paid herself allowances for a period equal to two years but under one calendar year, amounting to a total K213,385. Assistant accountants Banda, Zulu and Chumbu paid themselves K127,190, K160,255 and K196,895 for 612, 683 and 726 calendar days respectively.

The records showed that millions were spent on 28 officers to carry out various activities in Lusaka District, but an investigation conducted revealed that the officers either did not spend any money on the activities or did not visit the sites at all.

The records further revealed that Lombe had been getting subsistence allowances at the rate of Permanent Secretary, without authority from the Secretary to the Cabinet, resulting in overpayment of K49, 600.

“Imprest paid for trips not undertaken: Amounts totalling K186,224 were paid to two officers on cheque numbers 24160 and 24182 and EFTA numbers 8250 dated 19th July, 2017, 2nd November, 2017 and 21st July, 2017 respectively to undertake a training needs analysis and payroll evaluation in all the districts of Lusaka Province. However, an analysis of the budget and the retirements revealed that amounts totalling K40,900 were allowances paid to three accounting staff; the inclusion of which was irregular because the activity was for Human Resource,” read the records.

“Imprest in amounts totalling K2.8 million was issued to various officers to facilitate payments of allowances for various activities. However, amounts totalling K824,152 had not been retired as of May 2018.”

Sources at Cabinet office told News Diggers! that the theft of government funds had reached alarming levels because people were not being punished.

“Last year, you people had reported a very nice story where Lusaka Province PS was sweating to explain irregularities in the province before PAC. The committee actually recommended that a team of auditors must go and do a full forensic audit. So that’s how that was done and some of these issues came to the fore. As I speak to you know, the deputy PS and four accountants have been suspended,” the sources revealed.

“People are too greedy, when you look at the details of the audit, you will be shocked at the impunity with which they were looting. It is strange that the system was not capturing such glaring irregularities. From what we understand, the PF is under pressure to clean the mess, otherwise he is the one who will face the music at PAC.”

The sources observed that most of the accountants being suspended now had a history of mismanagement.

“When you look at this whole thing, you notice that some of the people who are being suspended do not have a clean record already, they were transferred from other places after erring, hoping that they would reform but they continue with the same kind of pattern. When you look at this case from Lusaka Province, one of the accountants there was moved from Ministry of Works and Supply before it was split and even there, we heard that she had some scandals. So this is something that you the media has to focus on,” the sources said.

And sources at the Ministry of Finance narrated that government was also under pressure to rebuild public confidence, especially from donors, to show that it was committed to ensuring accountability.

“You will see a lot more of such coming out very soon. There is pressure, and the ministry is also trying to prove a point that it can be accountable to these resources. Especially with the wave of donors threatening to pull out, that has added pressure on the system now,” said the source.

In December 2017, The Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) sent away Lusaka Province permanent secretary Charles Sipanje to pave way for investigations of theft.

This was after Sipanje failed to reconcile receipts which he had signed when he appeared before PAC to respond to audit queries raised in the 2016 Auditor General’s report.

It was revealed that that accountable imprest totaling K13,000 which was issued to four officers to undertake various activities had not been retired as at July 31, 2017 whilst some officers spent K75, 293 on procurement of stationery, motor vehicle parts, among other things whose value could not be ascertained on the market.

“There has been a decision that has been reached in that we need to investigate on these issues especially that we have seen so many issues concerning the receipts that have not been cleared. You need to use your powers because people are doing things without any regard. They know that even if I don’t retire, the PS will go to the committee, talk and it will end there. People are giving themselves loans. I think we need to crack a whip because it is a trend in the civil service. It is becoming a culture for people to do things with impunity, not following the laid down rules. They know that they will go scot free because the PS is not going to do anything about it, they will just recover. But this time around we are not going to go as business as usual. We want these things now to change,” PAC chairperson Howard Kunda had told Sipanje.