Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) members have expressed annoyance at the levels of financial irregularities at the Ministry of General Education.
This came to light, Friday, when the two permanent secretaries of the ministry appeared before the committee to respond to audit queries cited in the Auditor General’s Report.
The two Permanent Secretaries Felix Phiri and suspended Henry Tukombe appeared before the committee with over 60 supporting staff from the ministry, including District Education Board Secretaries from various districts across the country.
Solwezi East UPND member of parliament Teddy Kasonso expressed disgust at the theft levels in the ministry.
“Misuse of public funds is rampant [in this ministry] it is Sodom and Gomorrah. What is going on is unacceptable. The question is, why is this ministry being managed in such a reckless manner?” Kasonso asked.
PAC chairperson Howard Kunda noted that the attached payslips of deductions for the erring officers were futuristically dated December 31st 2018.
“I have noticed that they are bearing the date that we have not yet reached. We have not reached 31st December 2018 [and] most of them I have noticed. Why is it so? Why are we providing information that is for the future and not what should be answering the query that was arrived at some time back?” Kunda asked.
Ministry director of finance justified that by saying that the payslips were just samples to show that action had been taken adding that the idea was to show that the deductions had started.
Kunda then refused to accept the payslips as supporting documents of action saying that the committee would never deal with samples.
“We do not deal with samples here. We deal with actual information. What is there is what you are supposed to present to this committee so that we can conclude these issues. PS, why are you allowing such kind of thing to come and give us piecemeal information instead of bringing the actual information that is required?” Kunda asked again.
And PS Felix Phiri then apologised to the committee for the misinformation.
Then Choma Central UPND member of parliament Cornelius Mweetwa said the ministry in question was the most corrupt ministry in government.
“There is a lot of impunity in this ministry. People who want to talk against impunity and embezzling, corruption, you start sending them to rural areas and you have been boasting that you have height political connections, that is why this level of high degradation in your ministry has reached such severity,” Mweetwa said.
“Honourable Mbulakulima here and Honourable Munkonge have made valid observations. So you as controlling officer Mr Tukombe who was in charge of this impunity at a personal level, that one day you are no longer PS, how do you feel that you are associated with this in this country where the majority of our people are poor [and] you are supervising such kind of a ministry with scandals and scams? When DEBS officer tell you, you send them to rural areas, you want those surrounding you to be worshipping you,” Mweetwa charged.
When given chance to respond, Tukombe tried to sneak off the questions by saying that he was not consulted when making the management responses to the queries.
“Chair I am very grateful that you have accorded me chance to come and maybe account for the period 2017 like Honourable Mweetwa has said that we were there as the impunity [was taking place] and all that [but] the unfortunate part chair is that I was being given this document yesterday. When they were preparing this, I was not involved [and] I was not consulted. So if we are to go by that standard of natural justice, what is it that I have contributed?” Tukombe asked.
Kasonso then rephrased his question to help Tukombe understand what he wanted him to answer
“Chair maybe during the time that I was controlling officer, I may acknowledge that impunity could have come and like, if I looked at the way questions were flowing, there were some variation, the approved amount of money and what was done at the end of the day. Now, we don’t approve impunity neither do we approve misapplication, we approve the budget. If you are to look at certain payments that were effected, you will discover [that] there was an adjustment or plus which I didn’t approve. So meaning yes being the controlling officer at that time, we could have not done well in terms of monitoring and supervising our directors that were charged with different responsibilities. I don’t think anyone would like this type of impunity to go on, I don’t think so,” he said.
Mweetwa then observed that Tukombe responded to questions in a joking manner further warning him that PAC was a serious committee composed of people with serious things to do.
At this point, Kunda called on the former chief accountant to state if the accounts department was facing any challenges.
“Unfortunately I wasn’t privy to responding to these queries, otherwise, I would have also put in an input. So it was done without my input,” he responded.
After being told to be serious in providing information, the former chief accountant then opened another Pandora box by stating that there were too many under-qualified accountants at the ministry at the time when he joined.
“When I joined the Ministry of General Education in May 2017, I found that there were a lot of problems at ministry as far as accounting processes were concerned. So we had started putting in place measures of how to mitigate some of these audit queries which unfortunately again they happen to re-occur. The other challenge which was there was the lack of education on the cadres who were there. Some of them were not qualified enough and I had to request the accountant general’s office to see if he could give us new members of staff. So it’s true that we had a challenge of accounting cadres at the Ministry of General Education,” he said.
Kunda followed with another question and wondered how the ministry was going to recover over K1, 400, 000 from an officer who had irregularly drawn monies from the ministry account.
“I have seen that from this Lazarous Chanda, you are supposed to recover K1, 400 000 plus and the other one Ivy Sibajene, you are supposed to recover K445, 000 plus. Are you sure that these officers have these monies that will surpass what you are supposed to recover from this pension fund?” Kunda asked.
PS Phiri responded by saying the recoveries would be made from the employees’ terminal benefits.
“For those who have been dismissed, we will recover from their terminal benefits in terms of accrued leave days. And if those are not enough, we will then forward that information to the Public Service Pension Fund for them to make an assessment in terms of the accrued rights which they may have if there is any payment to be effected from there. Within the ministry we have already started the process. For those who are still serving, we have written to the Public Service Management Division,” responded Phiri.
The hearing which began in the morning around 10: 00hrs ended around 22:00 hours.