The parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) yesterday learnt how the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been struggling with lack of funds to repatriate recalled diplomats from various missions abroad.

And the Committee further learnt how missions abroad have been subjected to settling debts and bank loans obtained by recalled diplomats.

This came to light when Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary Ronald Simwinga and Zambia’s High Commissioner to Namibia Stella Libongani, Zambia’s Ambassador to Zimbabwe Emmanuel Chenda, Zambia’s Charge d’ Affairs to Geneva Margaret Kayemba, and other Ministry staff appeared before PAC to respond to audit queries cited in the Auditor General’s report for the financial year ended December 31, 2017.

The audit report had earlier highlighted the Ministry’s failure to repatriate recalled diplomats from Ankara, Tokyo, New Delhi, Rome and New York.

Simwinga in response said his Ministry had requested for funding amounting to K40 million from the Ministry of Finance to transport all the recalled diplomats, but only K10 million was released.

“I wish to submit to the Committee that a request for funding amounting to K40,000,000 to transport all the recalled diplomats was made to the Ministry of Finance, and that an initial funding amounting to K10 million was released for the activity. The Ministry has since disbursed funding to the missions abroad,” Simwinga responded.

Simwinga also told the Committee that the estimated cost for each diplomat to be repatriated was about K90,000.

In another query, High Commissioner Libongani’s mission in Namibia was cited for outstanding bills not cleared by re-called diplomats totalling K102,700.

“During the year under review, three diplomats were recalled from foreign service namely; Deputy High Commissioner, First Secretary for Political/Administration and Third Secretary-Personal Secretary. During the same period, the High Commissioner resigned from the Foreign Service. An examination of accounting and other records revealed that the diplomats left outstanding bills, unretired imprest and un-recovered salary advances totaling K102,700,” cited the Audit Report.

In justifying that, Simwinga stated that the bill recoveries for the deputy High Commissioner were paid through a casualty notification form.

The audit report further cited that the former First Secretary for Political/Administration left an unsettled car loan and overdraft facility at Nedbank Namibia amounting to US$5,094.97.

“The former First Secretary for Political/Administration left an unsettled car loan and overdraft facility at Nedbank Namibia of US$5,094.97 (N$71, 239.55) and the officer did not declare the outstanding bills and loan to the Ministry, contrary to minute No.MFA/STA/2804 DATED 23rd March, 2016. In this regard, the Bank lodged in a complaint to the High Commissioner on the failure to repay the loan putting the name of the High Commissioner into disrepute,” the audit report revealed.

Further, the former deputy High Commissioner left an outstanding salary advance and a debt to a travel agency for air tickets bought on credit amounting to K217,367.

And the audit report cited a former Third Secretary-Personal Secretary for an outstanding advance of K107,214 (US $7,669.13) when she was recalled from the foreign service.

For the bill accrued by the third secretary, Simwinga explained that recoveries had already been effected through payroll as the culprit was still serving.

In another query, the High Commission in Windhoek Namibia was also cited for approving payments amounting to K596,126 above the threshold permissible of the head of mission.

“The Public Procurement Act No.12 of 2008 provides that the Head of Mission shall approve procurements up to a maximum of K10,000. Contrary to the provisions of the Act, the High Commissioner approved 22 payments in amounts totalling K596,23 (N$625, 668.96) for the procurement of various goods and services, which were above her threshold,” cited the audit report.

In response to the above query, Simwinga said the High Commissioner had been cautioned to strictly adhere to the provisions of the law and other regularities.

Ambassador Chenda at the mission in Harare was also cited for approving 30 payments totalling K511,728 above his maximum threshold of K10,000.

Meanwhile, the Auditor General’s report cited the mission in Brussels for its outstanding debt by recalled staff, which amounted to K62,517 and K32,857, which was accrued through medical insurance and damages to the residence as well as special advance.

It was also discovered that another recalled second secretary at the same mission at the time of her return owed a local bank amounts totalling K546,000, while another one owed K26,020.72

But as usual, Simwinga gave a uniform response, saying the recoveries were done through the Casualty Notification Form upon payment of gratuity.