The parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Tuesday sent back officials from the Ministry of Heath for submitting supporting documentation that was not easily verifiable.

This was when Health Permanent Secretary Dr Kennedy Malama and his team appeared before the Committee to respond to audit queries cited in the Auditor General’s Report for the financial year ended December 31, 2017.

During the deliberations, the Committee, which was chaired by deputy chairperson Brenda Tambatamba, raised the issue of health officers in Mumbwa District who had remained in the service despite having irregularly paid salaries that were not entitled to them.

“Contrary to terms and conditions of service for the public service number 60 (a) and (b), which states that an officer who absents himself or herself from duty for a period of 10 days or more without official leave, must be separated from the service and shall not get a salary for the period he or she is absent from duty, two officers, who were absent from duty for periods ranging from four to six months at Mumbwa DHO had not been separated from service, and were irregularly paid salaries totalling K62,622. As at August 31, 2018, the anomaly had not been corrected,” queried the AG Report.

In his response, Dr Malama said the cited officers had been dismissed and that documents to prove that action were attached to the response when in fact not.

“One of the officers in question proceeded on study leave, but failed to return to the station upon completion of studies. The other one deserted from Namgoma Mission Hospital without notifying the district office. The two officers have since been dismissed from the public service and paid salaries recovered from their terminal benefits. The District Health Director for Mumbwa has also been charged for poor supervision and given a recorded warning in line with the disciplinary code for handling offenses in the public service. The Ministry has embarked on an exercise to re-orient management from provincial and district health office on human resource and payroll management to avoid re-occurrence. Supporting documents including dismissal and charge letters for the district health director Mumbwa and recoveries from the terminal benefits are available for verification in appendix 3,” Dr Malama responded.

The Committee then noticed the omission of the documents of action taken against the officers and queried again.

Dr Malama insisted that the document was there, but maybe in another folder, which he had submitted earlier.

Then Tambatamba guided that the Committee would not proceed if the documents in question were not first submitted to the office of the Auditor General for verification before coming to the Committee as per rule.

“It would appear that the document that you are referring to in the big folder, which is there, has not been accepted by the Committee if it’s this one you are referring to because this is supposed to go to the Auditor General for verification. So, only then after they have gone through that office will they end up arriving here [and] if they have not gone there, they cannot land here. So, I don’t know how many references are pointing to this and if the rest of the references are pointing to this in this meeting, [then] we will not be able to deal with those matters that point to this particular folder,” she said.

But the controlling officer insisted by saying: “Some of the evidence may be in the bigger folders and some of it may be in the folders that we’ve presented to the Committee.”

On another issue regarding health officials from the Copperbelt and Central provinces, respectively, the same action documents problem arose, and Tambatamba was the first one to notice it.
“PS, in your submission here, you are saying that: ‘supporting documents, such as charge letters such as…’ so the members here are looking for supporting documents, such as recoveries from terminal benefits for those staff. That is what they are looking for; to verify, to understand, even as they provide guidance and oversight to you,” Tambatamba said.

Dr Malama responded again by saying: “The charge letters and provincial health staff for all these queries, what we did [was that] provincial health directors were charged for various issues, which arose in the audit report and those letters are there.”

Another issue that arose was that the stated action taken was done on September 20, 2018, after the Auditor General’s Report had been concluded.

In resolving the identified lapses, Tambatamba asked the PS and his team to go back and put their house in order and attach the reference documents in their correct order to allow easy flow of the deliberations.

The PS was asked to resubmit on Wednesday December 5, 2018, at 11:30 hours.