MINISTRY of Commerce, Trade and Industry Permanent Secretary Mushuma Mulenga yesterday had a tough time responding to questions posed by the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on amounts totalling K73,166 paid to eight officers as refunds.

The latest Auditor General’s report revealed that amounts totalling K73,166 were paid to eight officers as refunds for using their personal money on payment of visas and subsistence allowances for travelling abroad.

Mulenga also failed to clearly explain how a motor vehicle belonging to the Ministry was involved in an accident on July 11, 2018 but was nowhere to be seen after an audit was conducted in June 2020 and July 2021.

The Committee also noticed that there were a lot of inconsistencies in the Ministry’s answers and eventually directed the controlling officer and his team to leave and only return in seven days’ time with adequate responses.

Appearing before the PAC, Wednesday, Mulenga said it was a common practice for officers to undertake trips even when government had no funds.

“On the issue why officers were allowed to undertake trips even when the Ministry had no funds, this was a practice at one time. As part of the austerity measures, government did guide all the Ministries and spending agencies from 2018 and 2019 that no trip should be undertaken unless there was money. So that practice has sort of fallen off,” he said.

“What we do now, even if it’s 20% that you are supposed to be paid, money has to be there. If the 20% is not there then you do not have to travel. So some of the issues we are dealing with are sort of legacy issues. At the time these trips were taking place, it was a common practice for people to undertake trips and then when the money is available, they are paid later on.”

But nominated member of parliament Likando Mufalali wondered why the Ministry could commit to paying allowances when government did not have funds.

“The documents you have submitted have too many alterations. You realise that dates are being changed and names are being removed and all that brings suspicion to this committee. So that controlling officer gives us suspicions. Additionally, you commit government to pay allowances for those who are sponsored to travel. Just because there is someone who is sponsoring does not give you express permit to start committing government to pay allowances even when you do not have them. When you know you do not have money, do not commit yourself because the result is what we have here. This is why even the documents are even in shambles and they are suspicious,” said Mufalali.

And Chavuma member of parliament Victor Lumayi questioned the authenticity of the documents submitted by the Ministry.

“The committee has difficulties with your explanations. We have this query because we are doubting what you have submitted. I want you to help the committee understand the best procedure an officer has to take when claiming funds after a trip. No one has signed some of these documents you have submitted. So it appears that these documents were just being done to cover the query from the Office of the Auditor General. If this documentation was genuine, you were not going to appear here. I want you to help this committee understand why we should accept that these documents are original,” said Lumayi.

In response, Mulenga justified the alterations on the documents.

“As management, when we sat, I guided that one of the priority areas going forward would be the dismantling of debt because there was quite a bit of debt that the Ministry was owing. This documentation we have is the original documentation that was used. The changes that were being made here show that the officer travelled on behalf of the PS so they had to change the name. So that is about the genuineness of the documentation,” said Mulenga.

PAC chairperson Warren Mwambazi, however, advised the controlling officer to return in seven days’ time with a comprehensive report.

“There are a lot of pertinent issues raised of which have not been fully answered. The guidance from the committee is that you go back and do a report and liaise with the office of the clerk because we want that report within seven days. The issue of payment of allowances, there is a lot inconsistency and that is why the Office of the Auditor General raised it and that raises suspicion. We hope and pray that you can stop appearing and mitigate some of those issues so that we should not be having such lapses,” said Mwambazi.