The parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) yesterday applauded North-Western Province Permanent Secretary Ephraim Mateyo and his team for resolving the audit queries cited in the previous Auditor General’s Report.

But in sending off the controlling officer after he appeared before his Committee, PAC chairperson Howard Kunda said the PS might be called to re-appear after submitting the other missing documents.

Mateyo and his team had appeared before PAC to respond to audit queries cited in the Auditor General’s Report for the financial year ended December 31, 2017.

“From what the honourable members have said, I would want to say that, yes, you have improved. For example, last year’s queries had issues to do with misapplication and we have not seen that now, which is a very good improvement, but you still need to do more so that you don’t appear here. Those who have done very well are not appearing here. They are not appearing on the Auditor General’s Report. So, I can safely say that you have not done very well for you to [appear] here this time. So, we need you to go back there and put systems that will work for you and not for you to work for the systems. Having said that, we would want you to reduce even further [on these] audits. I know you have been saying that it is very difficult, but it is possible, looking at the way you have attended to the queries, which appeared in last Auditor General’s Report,” Kunda said.

Earlier during the proceedings, one of the issues that arose was about an officer from the Ministry of Transport and Communication, who is based in Lusaka, but has continued drawing salaries from North-Western Province.

Mkushi North PF member of parliament Doreen Mwape asked Mateyo to explain a salary that was paid to an employee despite her not returning to her position.

“PS, query (b) questionable unblocking of salary. I want to read the query so that it’s understood. In July, 2014, provincial administration blocked the salary of Tabo Salome printer operator due to the fact that she proceeded on study leave without approval. However, in October, 2017, her salary was unblocked despite the officer not returning to her station and as at December, 2017, she had been paid amounts totalling to K38, 474, 53 in salary and arrears. PS, I want to find out, here is a person who proceeded on study leave without approval. The punishment, which was meted on her was to block her salary. First, I want to ask, who gave the instructions to unblock the salary of an officer who proceeded on study leave without approval? Again, according to human resource procedure, this was absenteeism. If an officer stays away from her duty for ten days, this calls [for] instant dismissal, but the only action, which was taken was to block her salary. As if that wasn’t enough, this person was not even at her station, but she has continued drawing a salary up to now, I believe. PS, we need you to tell this Committee who unblocked the salary? And also, who authorised?” asked Mwape.

In response, Mateyo, a former Inspector General of Police, called his supporting staff to assist in responding to the query.

“You see, we, in [the] provincial administration, sometimes face a lot of administrative issues. The members of staff that we have are controlled double. You find that the line ministry, for example, in this particular case, the line ministry is the Ministry of Transport and Communication. That is where this person is and as I have reported, chair, this was not done by the province, it was done by the Ministry where this person belongs. That is why we wrote seeking clarity just as the honourable member is seeking for clarity from me. We wrote and the response hasn’t come. In the province, we can be doing something and the line Ministry can also be doing something and that is why we have also requested for clarify on why,” Mateyo explained.

After his response, provincial chief human resource development officer Bonwell Njungu chipped in to assist his superior on the query under review.

“In this scenario, Tabo Salome was based in Solwezi and the payroll is in Solwezi. However, officers have dual reporting relationship where they report to the provincial Permanent Secretary as well as the Ministry. And the payroll for Salome is based in Solwezi, the Department noticed the absence [and] brought this issue before the Committee. It was instructed that; ‘block the salary’ to force the officer to come back so that we hear from the officer and charge the officer. The officer reported to Lusaka where the salary was unblocked,” Njungu explained.

Kunda, who is also Muchinga MMD member of parliament, then demanded to see the transfer letter for the officer in question, which could not be produced at the time.

“The issue of payroll transfer is a challenge in some instances, for instance, in this scenario, this officer is currently under Lusaka, but we were not served with transfer letter. So, the mother Ministry, I would have loved if they were present to add more beef to this case because there was no transfer letter and they are showing us that this officer has been [transferred], but the Head of Department says the officer is in Lusaka, that is where he is serving. And this is surprising because the receiving office was supposed to receive this officer with the transfer letter for him/her to fill in the arrival advance and payment of salary, but it seems I don’t know what type of relationship that they entertained and placed the officer back on payroll. And then our local PS is made to suffer for this issue, which was unblocked by another Ministry,” narrated Njungu.

And on the way forward on the matter, Mateyo said he would follow up the matter with the Ministry and have the matter resolved.