AUDITOR General Dick Sichembe says the Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit (DMMU) worked outside the law when they handled COVID-19 donations outside the framework of the National Disaster Relief Trust Fund.

In the Interim Report of the Auditor General on the audit of utilisation of COVID-19 resources as at 31st July 2020, it was observed that when COVID-19 was reported in March 2020, the Fund had not been made operational, 10 years after its establishment.

Speaking when DMMU national coordinator Chanda Kabwe appeared before the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Wednesday, committee Chairperson Howard Kunda noted that the Vice-President ordered that the fund be operationalised in July 2019 but that had not been done to date, wondering why the matter was still outstanding.

Chavuma UPND member of parliament Victor Lumayi also why the fund was not being operationalised when it was the framework under which disaster funding was supposed to be managed.

Milenge PF member of parliament Mwansa Mbulakulima also said there was need for systems to be respected and questioned whether other DMMU operations where within the law.

But Kabwe said DMMU used other systems in discharging its mandate.

“Honorable Chair, with your permission maybe it will be important for the Committee to know or to understand that DMMU is not just about National Trust fund. DMMU has been operational from 1994 until when the Act was passed in 2010. National trust fund is just part of the recommendations within the Act, so to say that we are operating outside the law, it is, for lack of a better term Chairperson, our operations like I said, the funding that we are using as DMMU is based on our annual budgets which is approved by parliament, which Honorable chairperson and the committee members are part of Parliament. The trust fund has never been funded or was never used…Chairperson, why I said that because there are other provisions of the law within the Act that DMMU is using,” Kabwe said.

“Like I said, this trust fund has not been funded but the operations of DMMU, the responses that we have given to the communities is based on the approved budget, the annual approved budget which other ministries do present to Parliament and they are approved.”

Auditor General Dick Sichembe, however, said the use of any other framework to receive donated funds or materials when responding to disasters was outside the law.

“Just to clarify on two issues, one pertaining to the disaster relief trust fund and the one maybe just which pertains to the account which has been mentioned. I want to just submit to the Committee Chair that the Disaster Relief Trust Fund, this is a framework or the law, or part of the law that provides for the response to disasters and if you look at Section 30, Sub Section 2(c) I quote Chair, it says ‘any grant mobilised from any source within or outside Zambia for the purpose of the disaster management, this is the framework that should be used’. So if we are using any other framework apart from the National Disaster Relief Trust in relation to the receipt of funds or any materials or anything that will respond to the disaster management were outside the law. So from where we stand, from the audit point of view, there is no compliance because the law provides that anything to do with a disaster, this is the vehicle or the framework through which the responses or anything should be done. Again, we take note that Chair this has taken long like the members have indicated,” said Sichembe.

“Coming to the account at Bank of Zambia, like the Accountant General has said, it was only opened in 2011 but the Public Finance Act provides that the account which is not used or which is not operational becomes invalid and every year there is a requirement with a submission that the account should be reactivated and it has to be authorised by the Secretary to the Treasury through the Accountant General. So these accounts, as much as they are there, they are not in use and they cannot be used because 2011, financial year, when it elapsed, the account became invalid. So that process has to be followed for the account to be valid.”

And in response to Sichembe, Kabwe said all donations were handled by the Ministry of Finance though the Office of the Accountant General.

“…in my preamble I said this trust fund is very important and key for the Zambian people and the Zambian government. But also Chair, I want to put it on record that all donated funds, all donated funds are deposited and controlled by the Accountant General, he is the one who manages all the donations. So in terms of us using the funds of donations, I think that maybe my colleagues from the Accountant General may speak on that matter because everything that we receive is not deposited in the DMMU account or third party account, it’s deposited at Ministry of Finance and Bank of Zambia. So that account which the Auditor General spoke about, we have renewed the mandates at the Bank of Zambia for that account and that is done through the Accountant General and I am sure they may speak to more better placed than me,” he said.

He said he would bring the issue of the delayed operationalisation of the Fund to attention of the Secretary to Cabinet so that it could be resolved.

“…but then coming from the Auditor General himself that whatever we [are] doing, without that it becomes important that this matter is resolved like yesterday and that the full operationalisation of the national trust fund is done like yesterday to ensure that we comply with the audits and we comply with the law. So we will make sure that we push, I will be able to discuss with Secretary to Cabinet this afternoon that this matter be considered so that the matter is resolved and report is given fully,” said Kabwe.