Officers from the Ministry of Gender on Monday kept shifting the blame to one another after failing to justify why K1.8 million meant for Economic Empowerment of Women was used to purchase two vehicles among other things.

This was when the ministry Permanent Secretary Dr Auxilia Ponga and her officers appeared before the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to respond to audit queries cited in the Auditor General’s report for the financial year ended December 31, 2017.

According to the audit query, the ministry misapplied funds amounting to K1,889,167.93 that were meant for Economic Empowerment of Women and promotion of Gender Mainstreaming were applied on unrelated activities such as purchase of motor vehicles, furniture, office operations and outfits for health week, among others.

When asked to justify the misapplication, Dr Ponga said she was not the one who took action, but predecessor.

“Chair, I am reporting at a time when I was not the one who took action and I am saying going forward, we will do what is required of the ministry in terms of seeking authority to vary funds. I wasn’t in office when this was done but I am aware of what the processes are and I am ensuring and assuring the committee that going forward, we will not misapply funds. We vary after seeking authority to do that,” Ponga said.

Solwezi West UPND member of parliament Teddy Kasonso then wondered where the supporting staff were when the irregularities were taking place.

“This report is another one which is very bad, that’s my view and I am well informed that you are new in this ministry but however I want to know where was the finance director? Are you also new? There is a problem because there is rampant misuse of government finances. Where you there when these things were happening? when you freely went shopping to buy vehicles, when you had no money but you decided to use money for empowerment and went to Toyota Zambia and did the shopping, are you aware of the procedures of use of government money?” Kasonso asked.

Head of Procurement Chibuye Zulu at this point chipped in to supplement the responses and in doing so blamed the accounts department.

“I would like to say that I was around when the procurement was done for motor vehicles. I do understand procurement but the mistake was made in accounts, the failure to vary funds. It was budgeted for under support to technological,” Zulu said

Kasonso observed that Zulu’s response and what was in the audit report were not matching and further asked Zulu if she was trying to mislead the committee.

“But we are being told here [in the audit report] that this money was not budgeted for, it is the money which was meant for empowering women and you decided to use K1.8 million to buy two vehicles. Was that the actual money which you [had] budgeted for or you are misleading us [that] what is here (report) is not correct?” Kasonso asked.

In response, Zulu said; “We actually received a request from the department or GIT where they had requested that they needed to procure two motor vehicles and on that request they had put budget line.”

At this point, Committee Chairperson Howard Kunda asked a follow up question, wondering why Zulu had decided to go ahead with the purchase of motor vehicles using funds which were not meant for that project.

“And you decided to use the other monies instead of using the budgeted for funds? And knowing that you are supposed to get authority from the secretary to the treasury so that you can vary these funds once you are given the authority, so you just went ahead and disregarded the law [and] just decided to misapply? Is that what you are saying that you are disregarding the law, you are just deciding on your own to use these funds depriving the budgeted for areas?” Kunda asked.

Zulu then said the budget was already approved by the controlling officer.

Dr Ponga then apologized for misapplying the funds and assured the committee that the mistake would not repeat itself.

“I apologise that varying of funds was not done which is a case of misapplication. However I just wanted to draw the committee to the attention of the fact in the activity being considered, there were to be 20 tractors which were bought. So the plan was to buy 20 tractors. The fault is not to have requested for varying of funds so that other required items for monitoring what we were purchasing could have been done. So I admit that we are at fault for not applying for varying of funds. However the equipment that was budgeted for was purchased in the total number that it was purchased for,” Dr Ponga.

And the committee asked why the ministry directly paid monies amounting to K531,000 to 10 employees of Medeem company instead of paying those funds to the company which was engaged to undertake a survey for the pilot mapping exercise of customary land allocated to women cooperatives in selected chiefdoms.

Meanwhile, after being asked by Chinsali PF member of parliament Kalalwe Mukosa if she was competent to do her job, Zulu said she was.

“I must submit that I am very competent. If you look at the query, all the procurement processes and procedures were followed. There is no query that is related to procurement on the purchase of motor vehicle. Varying of funds is a function of finance department. I did my part as professional as I could. On the next query of failing to follow procurement procedures, this one never passed through my office, it was handled by accounts and the user department,” said Zulu.

And Kunda told the controlling officer to be on stand-by as she could be called to re-appear again for other outstanding issues which she did not clear due to lack of supporting documentation.