SECRETARY to the Treasury Felix Nkulukusa says the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development came up with a bill totalling K35 million to conduct trainings with local authorities in readiness for the disbursement of Constituency Development Fund (CDF), which he refused to authorise.

And Nkulukusa says an audit has revealed that the Ministry of Health payroll in Zimba district has a ghost hospital named Nangoma Mission Hospital with over 1,000 ghost workers.

Appearing before the Parliamentary Committee on Local Government Accounts, Wednesday, Nkulukusa said government, in partnership with cooperating partners, instead spent K109,000 on virtual training for local authorities.

“The political exposé will be different in 2022. The community will be making decisions. We will see the community blowing the whistles if their money is not used because they are aware of their money. There is what we call a political economy where some measures are taken because they have been directed. It becomes very difficult to provide certain disciplines. I can guarantee that we have the political will. I have powers to suspend controlling officers and recommend either for dismissal, disciplinary action or prosecution. What we are doing is capacity building to ensure that we can take this action. Before we released the CDF, I ensured that the guidelines were put in place. I single handedly told the local government that I am not releasing the funds until you start training them,” he said.

“When they came to me with a bill of over K35 million for them to go and start training and again I told them this is an old fashioned way of doing things. We have got people in local authorities. It does not mean that the headquarters is the one with the capacity. We agreed that we are going to help the local authorities. We partnered with cooperating partners and we have virtual arrangements. We had three days of training local authorities on CDF. Then we said we can release the money. We are not saying we trained them and they know what to do now. We know they do not know but we wanted to have an incentive. On this virtual training where we needed to take people in rural areas to do the training, we spent K109,000 with the virtual training we did. So we can identify savings which can go into service delivery.”

And Nkulukusa said the second instalment of K805 million CDF would be released later this month or early next month.

“On March 21st, I released a circular where we discovered that the money we released was just sitting in accounts and not spent. I issued a circular for each of the controlling officers to explain why the money was not being spent. If the money is not being spent, it means we are not getting the service delivery to Zambians. On Monday, we released K198 million for bursary support for the 2nd quarter. The second K805 million CDF has been programmed to be released later this month or early next month because we know the other money is coming. The K805 million is already programmed. I approved that profiling,” he said.

“The following subsequent CDF will not be released as a whole but it will depend on reimbursement on the money that was given. We may lock up resources and money not being used. As we move forward, for those that would have spent the money and utilised a large chunk, we will be able to reimburse that money. We will go on a reimbursement basis up to the end of the year. So we do not see any constituency having challenges in spending the CDF for 2022. We may not provide support to all 116 local authorities. We could be providing support on a needs basis according to the capacity that we have.”

Meanwhile, UPND Kalomo Central member of parliament Harry Kamboni said there were so many loopholes in the CDF monitoring system.

And in response, Nkulukusa said it would be premature for government to start sanctioning erring workers.

“In my view, we are on the right path and we can start this journey. We may have challenges but we just need to work together. I think it will be premature for us to start calling and start sanctioning the people now. What we want is to try and show them how it is done. Once we are together and someone does not do what we need to do, we will sanction them. Should there be a case of fraud, that one we can sanction immediately, we do not need to wait and build capacity,” Nkulukusa said.

“Those that cannot come on board, we will make sure that we redeploy them or surrender them. So we are taking a process of consensus building and putting confidence in these officers so that they can move on their own. We have started training. We will be identifying managers, planners and accountants so that they can have the capacity. We are working with cooperating partners to make sure we do not have a challenge of resources as we increase capacity.”

But Chasefu constituency independent member of parliament Misheck Nyambose argued that some officers could not be trained and indicated that he could propose names of those that needed to be sanctioned.

At this point, Nkulukusa said the Smart Zambia Institute would develop a standardised integrated financial management system for local authorities.

“The Treasury is working with the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development as well as with Smart Zambia Institute to develop a standardised integrated financial management system for local authorities. We have been engaging with the cooperating partners and we have accepted and my office is co-chairing the meeting with the CPG group. We meet every first Thursday of the month,” he said.

“Through the support from the German government and through GIZ, they have assisted us to develop this system. We are just validating and making sure that it responds before we roll it out to local authorities. We are also working with the World Bank and other cooperating partners to make sure that this decentralisation comes to fruition. The decentralisation project will be funded by the World Bank and also build capacity. The accounting and reporting for local authorised must be standardised.”

Meanwhile, Nkulukusa said an audit revealed that the Ministry of Health payroll in Zimba district had a ghost hospital named Nangoma Mission Hospital with over 1,000 ghost workers.

“I wish to report that just a week or so ago, I personally went to have a meeting with the Auditor General to agree on how best we can execute our mandate and complement each other in order to achieve some of the challenges we have. The major challenge that we have committed ourselves to immediately, is the challenge of the PMEC system where we have a lot of ghost workers. We believe we have a number of ghost workers who are on the payroll and how best we can immediately start working together so that we clean the payroll. We already agreed on how we need to collaborate to move this forward. We want to have prudence in public financial management,” said Nkulukusa.

“The issue of ghost workers is real. I had a meeting a few days ago where we were told about the Ministry of Education. We have not proved this but we were told in Zimba district, on the Ministry of Health payroll, there is a hospital called Nangoma Mission Hospital. If that is true, it means that there is a ghost hospital which has ghost workers. Controller of internal audit did an audit of the PMEC system in September and we found that there were more than 1,082 ghost workers. We are investigating that because the system was sharing numbers. The moment there is sharing, then someone has intervened because there are unique numbers.”