CHIENGI FDD member of parliament Given Katuta has told parliament that the lack of care buy procurement officials under the Ministry of Health makes them appear as though they are hired to kill people.
And Serenje MMD member of parliament Maxwell Kabanda says punitive action must be seen to be taken against the officers who are responsible for procuring expired drugs.
But Finance Minister Dr Bwalya Ng’andu says financial management and control systems of government are robust and effective as they are able to detect those that abrogate the rules.
The lawmakers said this during debate as the Public Accounts Committee presented a report from the Auditor General on the Accounts of the Republic for the financial year ended 31st December, 2019.
“It’s most unfortunate that we have irresponsible people who are playing with the lives of people in Zambia. Health is very important and quite delicate and it’s what we don’t expect anyone to play with. We expect whoever is in charge of procurement, whenever they are procuring anything for the nation, to confirm their orders with the items that come into their possession on behalf of the government. Seeing that they went to an extend whereby they procured items which they knew very well had not been tested or had no quality [assurance] certificates or something like that, they didn’t even bother, they just decided to throw it in hospitals. To make matters worse, I personally take it that they are hired to kill people because they have no interest of the current government to see to it that primary health care is accessed by all Zambians according to what other countries or the international community are looking at,” noted Katuta.
In debating the same motion, Kabanda said the country could not afford to have officials play with people’s lives at the expense of fattening their pockets.
“About the ministry of health having supplied medicines which were expired, I think that the people’s lives should be secured, people’s lives should be preserved. We cannot afford to be playing with the lives of people at the alter of fattening our pockets. I think that equally, the relevant authorities should be able to take punitive action against the officers responsible for procuring the expired drugs. This government of President Edgar Chagwa Lungu has exhibited a lot of transparency in the recent time to show that nobody actually is above the law and a lot of officers, including ministers have been shown the door. So, this era of misapplying donor monies and government resources with impunity, Mr Speaker, I think should be nipped in the bud. We can’t continue on that trajectory,” he debated.
He further bemoaned the diverting of donor funds meant for a conference hall at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“Mr Speaker, the revelations that have come from the report are quite disheartening in the sense that a lot of public resources have been misapplied by controlling officers. I will cite the case of monies that were gotten from the People’s Republic of China for the construction of a conference hall at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which monies were misapplied to buy air tickets and pay per diems to officers. Surely Mr Speaker, even if it means misapplying resources, we should be sensitive to such monies, especially that they are coming from all-weather friends. The Chinese have been all-weather friends and we just would actually be shooting ourselves in the feet by misdirecting resources coming from such sources. Mr Speaker, the controlling officer should have been much aware that misdirecting of resources is an offence, it’s an offence which is punishable and I don’t think that it should go scot free, I am sure that the relevant authorities should be able to take punitive action against the controlling officer. This is because in addition to denting the image of the country, he has also flouted the financial regulations,” said Kabanda.
Chimwemwe Independent member of parliament Elias Mwila called on the Secretary to the Cabinet and Secretary to the Treasury to put an end to the continued failure by government officers in collecting government revenue.
“Mr Speaker, the people of Chimwemwe are saddened to learn that we are still having cases where government officers and government officials are failing to collect government revenue; they are failing to collect money that is urgently needed by government to put into many government streams. Mr Speaker, the problem that we have here is that this issue has been coming up year-in, year-out. It’s actually been perennial and I think it’s time that we ended this. The message from the people of Chimwemwe to the Secretary to the Treasury or the Secretary to the Cabinet is that, ‘let’s put an end to this, we are tired of it’. These officers who are refusing to collect revenue on behalf of government, when they get paid at the end of the month from government, for refusing to work, must be allowed to resign on their own. If they refuse to resign then they must be fired,” said Mwila.
Defending the government’s position, Ng’andu said although the government had a robust system in place to prevent breach of regulations, there was always going to be individuals who would succeed to do so.
“Mr Speaker, I want to start by stating that the financial management and control systems of government are robust and they work. Now in as much as these systems are robust, they did not prevent abrogation or breach of regulations by each and every officer and we have incidences where officers will breach the regulations where they will go against processes that have been established. What is important though, is that we are able to detect those that abrogate rules and also we are able to take the necessary action against each and every one of them,” he said.
He further reminded the House that members of the Ministry of Health evaluation committee were charged and demoted for failure to do due diligence over the 5000 health centre kits contract.
“One specific concern that has been raised relates to the ministry of health in relation to tender supply of 50,000 health kits. Recommendation from the committee is that disciplinary action must be taken against controlling officers and evaluation committee members responsible for causing the query, as they failed to undertake adequate due diligence on the bidders asked to perform the contract. Mr Speaker, government has charged the controlling officer and the members of the evaluation committee with misconduct in line with the finance management act number one of 2018. The contract of the controlling officer was terminated and the other officers have been demoted. The matter was referred to the investigative wings who have since completed investigations and handed over the report to the Director of Public Prosecutions. Mr Speaker, this is to underscore the seriousness with which government takes all these queries,” said Dr Ng’andu.
Meanwhile, Kampyongo noted that the enactment of the Public Finance Management Act was testimony that government was ready to be held accountable at all layers of public management.
“Mr Speaker, as the executive, we are proactive in making sure that we, for the first time, make sure that the Public Accounts Committee reports are acted upon and not put aside as it used to be. The enactment of the Public Finance Management act Mr Speaker, by this government was a clear testimony of a government that was prepared to be held accountable at all layers of public management. That was the first step. The second step was basically to ensure that the provisions, as and when they are flouted, culprits are made to account using the same Act. Some of the measures that have been put in place for example, is the coloration between the Auditor Generals office and the law enforcement agencies. There is memoranda of understanding that have been signed for example between the AG and the DEC to ensure that matters that relate to money laundering and transactions that are illegitimate are quickly investigated and culprits prosecuted,” stated Kampyongo.
“It’s the same with the Zambia Police and it has also further seen the interaction between the Director of Public Prosecutions’ office and the Auditor General’s office. This is how a government which is transparent is supposed to be. You have seen the meetings of your committee Mr Speaker, they are transparent and open to the public so that when matters are raised, the people of Zambia are able to know what is happening at every time. This never used to be the case in the past because there was a tendency of shielding people, there was a tendency of not getting public officers accountable. So Mr Speaker, these recommendations must be given to his Excellency the President who has been very clear in terms of managing state affairs.”
And in winding up debate, PAC Chairperson Howard Kunda called for those found wanting to be dealt with in accordance with the law.
“It is gratifying Mr Speaker to learn that the issues that were raised, most of them have been dealt with. I would want to just commend government for moving quickly in making sure our recommendations, and indeed as the Auditor General brings out these issues, government is on hand to deal with them; of course in accordance with the rules and regulations that we have put in place for ourselves to follow. It is, I think an issue that government should continue to do. Mr Speaker, I just want to emphasise that in terms of procurement, government should seriously deal with these people so that there can be an example,” said Kunda.
The House further proceeded to adopt the report of the Parliamentary Accounts Committee.