Housing and Infrastructure Development Permanent Secretary Charles Mushota on Friday told the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that there is system failure as it came to light that the two officers dismissed from his ministry for allegedly stealing money were actually transferred there from another ministry where they committed similar offences.

Meanwhile, Mushota got a warning from PAC instead of praise after he pleaded for commendation for recommending dismissal of officers accused of theft at the ministry.

Committee Chairperson Howard Kunda told Mushota that the committee would recommend his surcharge if he continued appearing in the Auditor General’s report for not adhering to the Public Finance Management Act.

Mushota had appeared before the PAC to respond to audit queries cited in the Auditor General’s report for the financial year ended 31st December, 2017.

He told the committee that the three dismissed officers at the Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure Development had earlier been transferred from other ministries after committing similar offences.

The three dismissed officers had committed three different offences of failure to retire money amounting to K346, 516; failure to retire paid meal allowances amounting to K32, 300, and failure to avail receipt books used in receipting funds amounting to K505, 250.

Responding to questions from committee members, Mushota explained that one of the officers was dismissed after losing receipt books after which he obtained a suspicious police report when he was compelled to do so.

“The custodian of the receipt books is the officer who has been dismissed. The officer was told to get a police report to that effect. Apparently, he got a police report which was not acceptable to management and also to the auditors for the simple reason that one, we questioned where this police report was obtained from because as you are aware chair, the ministry is within Ridgeway and around Ridgeway. We have a number of police stations and we believe that this accountable documents, the receipts, should have gone missing within the ministry premises but instead, the police report was obtained from Avondale. We didn’t understand the motive and also the way it was just done. Now the officer has been dismissed [and so] it becomes very difficult for us to make further follow-ups in terms of knowing exactly where these receipt books are and how it happened that they went missing,” Mushota explained.

“The two cashiers whom we had were the custodians of these documents because they were the ones who were receiving the monies and receipting. But before the audits, we discovered some malpractices by the two officers. So we took action as management before the audit started. So when the audits started, we tried to see whether we can get any information as to the whereabouts of these receipts [and] by this time, the two officers had been suspended. So it was very difficult. And the two officers have been dismissed. And the law enforcement agencies are investigating this matter.”

He then wondered why the erring officers were moved to his ministry after committing similar offences at another ministry.

“The officers who have been dismissed really put us in a very awkward position despite that as management [or] as a ministry, we really meant well to serve the people of Zambia. Yes, we have a system failure chair. Why do I say so? It is because the two cashiers who have been dismissed were with another ministry where similar activities had happened and they were transferred to my ministry. The principal accountant had been involved in two previous cases of similar nature and he was transferred to my department,” Mushotaa said.

Kunda then asked Mushota why he was not following the rules that had been put in place to ensure that financial management was guaranteed.

In response, Mushota begged for commendation for dismissing officers who were “a problem” in the governance system.

“Chair I think you should commend me. What I am trying to say is that at least we managed as a ministry to deal with these officers who could not be dealt with elsewhere. You know charging an officer, you need to have proper evidence; otherwise it becomes difficult to charge an officer. And therefore for the chief accountant, I would say that there was an under performance [because] I could not get the reports which I needed and I badly needed these reports,” Mushota pleaded.

However, Kunda differed with Mushota and told him that he would not have appeared in the audit report if he was doing a good job.

“No, we are not here to commend you if you are cited there and you are submitting these anomalies with corrections, then it means that you have done something wrong and that is why you are there. So PS, we are not here to pat you on the back. We want these issues to be corrected,” he told Mushota.

In winding up the hearing, Kunda said he was disappointed that the value of the queries for Mushota’s ministry had escalated to over K5 million.

He further warned Mushota that the committee had all the powers to recommend his surcharge if he failed to perform his duties effectively.

“Looking at 2017 queries, the value of these queries has gone to K5, 416, 516. It is very important that PS, this issue of procurement [is dealt with] because that is what is carrying the larger amount that needs to be addressed and it is in connection with the new systems. Putting systems together that will work for you and not what you will work for those systems. Now coming to this document (the Public Finance Management Act), you need to read [and] understand it because it has provisions that will help you. And also, if you do not do your duties, you are also liable and this committee will not hesitate to recommend for surcharge because you will have failed to adhere to the provisions of this act. So based on the fact that we have referred to the issue of an accountant whom you have said did wrong [and] for you to surrender somebody who was not doing their work and no charge was made on that officer, it shows that you did not do your duties if we follow the laid down rules that are in this act,” warned Kunda.