THE Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Thursday heard how 539 officers from the Ministries of Home Affairs and Livestock and Fisheries were sitting on the Central Province payroll rather than their respective Ministries.

Meanwhile, there was a heated confrontation between Central Province Finance Director Mordsen Chibuye and an officer from the Accountant General’s Office Elijah Manunga outside the committee room over some conflicting information given during hearing.

The Auditor General’s Report for the financial year ended December 31, 2019, cited failure to transfer 539 officers from the payroll as one of the prominent queries under the Central Province Administration.

“In the memorandum, you indicated that in the spirit of the Decentralisation Policy, the Departments of Agriculture and Fisheries and Livestock were moved from their respective Ministries and placed on Provincial Administration payroll. This was to enhance quick service delivery to the people of Zambia. However, the policy direction has since been reversed, which means that funding for Recurrent Departmental Charges (RDCs) are now funded directly to these departments, except for Personal Emoluments (PEs),” Auditor General’s report stated.

When Provincial Permanent Secretary Bernard Chomba appeared before the Committee, Mkushi North PF member of parliament Doreen Mwape asked how the provincial administration was financing the payroll for the said officers when they were not appearing on the budgeted and financial statements.

In response, Chomba said some officers from the Ministry of Home Affairs had already been reverted to their Ministry’s payroll.

“I think the issue of the 539 officers from the Ministry of Agriculture was something that brought a lot of issues. Earlier on, we received a circular where we were told that we should be budgeting for the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. But when the year came to an end, we were again given instructions that these departments should revert back to their old line ministries. While their day-to-day running of their departments was being done by their line ministries, their salaries still remained with us. In fact, there are two ministries, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries. We wrote a letter to the Secretary to Cabinet (Dr Simon Miti) last year and, fortunately, the one for the Ministry of Home Affairs was responded to and they have been reverted to their Ministry. But the ones from the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries are the ones that are still appearing on our payroll. But although they were appearing on our payroll, we were not the ones that were paying them; they were actually paid by the line ministries through the Ministry of Finance,” Chomba explained.

When asked to supplement Chomba’s explanation, Chibuye said there was an error, which was caused by the Treasury, but that the issue had since been resolved.

“The issue to do with payroll is a recurring issue and the PS took action and we wrote to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and Livestock at the time and action was taken. However, when you look at our payroll and our financial statements, this expenditure of K28 million was not captured on that. And that was an error, which came from the Treasury and they have since corrected on our reconciliations,” Chibuye replied.

However, an officer from the Auditor General’s Office also chipped in and said the query was raised because according to the payroll cash book, payments were made by the provincial administration and not the line ministries.

“According to our findings, chair, from the payroll cash book, the payments are being made from the provincial administration and not the line ministries. When we carried out the audit on the provincial administration’s payroll, the finding that we were getting from the financial statements side, the amount of the salaries paid to these 539 officers are not showing in the financial statements. But when you go to the payroll cashbook, that’s where we are finding these 539 officers appearing. That is why we raised it in our observation. You will note that these 539 officers are not appearing in their line ministries. So, that is where we raised that as an observation,” he said.

And Manunga from the Accountant General’s office said Chibuye’s information had potential to mislead the PS in his responses.

“Chair, a payroll for each ministry is based on the establishment, which is given to that particular ministry. Based on the Auditor General’s observation, these officers are sitting on the payroll of the provincial office as PS submitted on the understanding that there was a decentralisation policy that was being implemented where these officers were moved from their respective ministries to the provincial payroll,” said Manunga.

“The issue of financing the payroll is done through a Treasury Single Account (TSA), which is done through the Ministry, but each payroll responsibility lies with the controlling officer for that ministry or province. So, these officers are appearing on the provincial payroll and they should be moved back to the payrolls of their respective ministries just as the PS submitted. The submission by the Director Finance might mislead the PS in responding to this question. In his written submission, he has clearly indicated as to what led to the change in establishment of the movement of the officers from their respective ministries into the provincial payroll. And he has explained clearly that there is need to move these people back, hence he has written to the Secretary to the Cabinet. Now, for us to come and state that these officers are sitting on the payroll establishment of their respective ministries, we are not doing justice to the PS! It should be very clear that this is an observation that these officers are sitting on the provincial payroll establishment.”

And Committee chairperson Howard Kunda admonished Chomba not to be happy about appearing before his committee when he should be remorseful.

This was after Chomba thanked the committee for allowing him to appear before it.

“Why are you happy to appear before this committee when it is supposed to be regret for you to appear? Why, PS?” Kunda wondered.

He urged the PS to ensure that the Public Finance Management Act was followed to the letter so that the same queries were not repeated in the next audit.

“I expect that you should be regretting and not to start thanking us for the opportunity to allow you to appear here. All these issues, PS, can be avoided simply by following the Public Finance Management Act. We don’t take pride in seeing permanent secretaries coming here, controlling officers coming here, to come and tell us issues or record-keeping. That is very clear in the provision. We are here to help you, PS, to try and correct the situation because it is unacceptable that we keep talking about the same issue,” said Kunda.

Meanwhile, there was a heated altercation between Chibuye and Manunga outside the Committee Room soon after the sitting when the former approached the latter over some information, which was provided before the committee.

Chibuye was not happy that Manunga told the committee that the information provided by him had potential to mislead the PS in his responses.

“What was that all about? Why did you want to put me in a bad light? Mr Manunga, what was that about?” asked Chibuye, while following Manunga to his car as Manunga retorted saying: “Go and ask your PS!”