PARLIAMENTARY Public Accounts Committee Chairperson Howard Kunda on Monday wondered why Ministry of Community Development and Social Services permanent secretary Pamela Kabamba gave a conflicting response from what she gave to the Auditor General over the reimbursement of money borrowed from district offices.
Kabamba was was responding to a query by from Auditor general on why the Ministry failed to pay back K195,248 that was borrowed from the recovery account by seven districts to facilitate the distribution of inputs under the Food security pack when the said funds were meant empowering vulnerable households to enable them achieve food security which included purchasing of hammer mills and tractors.
“You had undertaken to assure the Auditor General that the said money was reimbursed but we are seeing that in some areas, it was not and this is at variance with information you gave the AG,” Kunda noted.
“PS, your statement that you signed, both in the management letter, your answer, it is stating that all the six districts that had borrowed funds have since paid back, it is not an assurance that they will pay back, we have this information so please be factual and to the point, what should we get? Is it what you are submitting now or what is already signed for, that which you have stated.”
After being interjected three times, Kabamba asked PAC to only consider the position which was given to the committee.
“Chair, I think the letter in submission on the reimbursement of funds is what we are presenting to the committee today. Maybe the earlier letter was written to the Auditor General on the premise that the funds will be released by the treasury but…,” she said before being cut off.
Kunda insisted that there was confusion because all correspondence was signed by Kabamba.
He then asked Auditor General Dick Sichembe to explain what transpired as there were conflicting statements.
“PS, I don’t take pride in stopping you from submitting but there are these correspondences that are there, you signed that all the six districts that had borrowed funds have paid but now you are saying it was an assurance, so what is it that we should get. Maybe the Auditor General can help us on this issue. What transpired because we are getting two conflicting statements here and here we deal with facts,” Kunda said.
But in response, Sichembe also expressed concern over the ministry’s change in position over the matter.
“Thank you Chair, as you have rightly put it, we have had engagements with the audited, in this case Ministry of Community Development and through the stages of audit, we request for information and clarification from them. From management letter, the response was ‘all the six districts that borrowed funds have paid back and records are available for audit verification’. When we went in, we found that that was not the case, again at the DAP stage, we queried, again the response was ‘the auditor’s observation is noted, however funds have since been reimbursed’ and there were some appendix that were attached. So the last part was DAP and the position was that the funds were reimbursed but now coming to the submission to the committee, that’s where now the details have changed. So that is our concern chair,” said Sichembe.
And in response, Kabamba apologised for giving misleading information to the Auditor General but insisted that the information given to PAC was the correct one.
“Honorable chair, I think its regrettable chair that there is that miscommunication or misinformation that the Ministry of Community Development shared with AG. We don’t want to give any excuses but I think Chair, maybe the assurance that was being given was premises on the fact that we would receive the funding and yet the funding didn’t come through but we note your concern chair, I think it’s misleading on the part of the ministry for us to have communicated in that manner but chair, in terms of where we currently stand is the submission that we have here today, The latest position in terms of the reimbursement of borrowed funds is what we have submitted now chair. And as indicated, there are some districts that have managed to reimburse and there are some which we still have outstanding amounts. I think what we have done from our end is to ensure that also the erring officers are brought to book and so we have done charge letters for the erring officers. So the latest position honourable Chair is what is being submitted to the committee today,” she said.
Kabamba said the Ministry was unable to properly execute the 2019 budget due to fiscal constraints which the treasury faced.
“In my submission I would just want to state the following that in terms of release of funds, the mandate is with the Ministry of Finance. As a Ministry of Community Development, indeed we did engage the treasury in terms of the required releases so that we could execute the budget as approved by Parliament but then I think they had some fiscal constraints which they indicated in their correspondence to us,” said Kabamba.