If we did not have some cold drinking water to calm her down, former chiefs and traditional affairs minister Berina Susan Kawandami would have turned our newsroom upside down, because she was super angry with us as she stormed our offices with guns blazing!
Although it was shockingly misdirected at us, we understood her anger and we accepted to provide a listening ear for her to vent out. A day earlier, we had published a story to the effect that Ms Kawandami, together with her fellow former ministers, owed government amounts totalling K253,993.79 for furniture, which the State sold to them on offer in 2016 and 2017.
It turned out that Ms. Kawandami, former Gender deputy minister Dorothy Kazunga and several other ex-ministers and ministers named in the story had actually paid for the furniture in question, and they have proof of payment. In simple, modern terms, this was fake news!
Now, this news story was not a product of a News Diggers! investigation. The list of ministers and ex-ministers, who were accused of owing government, was provided by Works and Supply Permanent Secretary Agnes Musunga to the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) last Friday, when the Ministry controlling officer was summoned to explain accountability queries cited in the Auditor General’s Report.
What this means is that when the auditors went to audit Works and Supply, they found that the money in question was not recorded on the ministry books, and the controlling officers gave an excuse that these former ministers had not paid the furniture money.
“I wish to acknowledge the audit findings regarding the above matter, the balance of the 13 transactions amounting to K253,994 is still not collected. You may wish to take cognizant that the affected officers are either serving or are former leaders. Enquiries were made to National Assembly and the Ministry of Finance to check if amounts in question were recovered from gratuities. The findings were that this was never done. With authorization from Secretary to the Cabinet, the Ministry wrote to the affected officers demanding payment,” Musunga told the Parliamentary Committee.
There was no way we would have known that the Permanent Secretary was feeding Parliament with lies. These are high-level government deliberations and procedures where one would expect that all correspondence handed to the lawmakers is checked and double-checked by technocrats as well as supervisors. But Madam Musunga went ahead and produced false information before the Committee. Why?
As if that was not enough, we are told now that the ministers, who were accused of owing, actually provided proof to this very Permanent Secretary showing that they settled the debt, and the Permanent Secretary wrote back, acknowledging receipt. But somehow, this controlling officer had no other explanation for the missing balance of the money and she went to pretend like she doesn’t know anything.
“I hereby acknowledge receipt of payment on Receipt number 6995240 of 26th September, 2016, amounting to K7,858.25 being proof of payment for the furniture that was offered to you in 2016. We have amended the records to indicate that you do not owe government any money for the above sell,” acknowledged Musunga in her letter to Kawandami.
Surely, Kawandami had the right to be very annoyed because it is not everybody who serves in government who is a crook. Some people desire to serve their country and leave the system without any scandals, especially such queries that are related to theft or corruption.
Kawandami feels this failure of accountability goes to show the low calibre of the officers who are responsible for finance management in these ministries, but we think more than that. It actually gives the impression that this money is not in the government coffers because it was chewed by those who received it.
This is how innocent people go to jail while fraudsters who control government resources remain in the corridors of power. Kawandami is lucky because she found the receipt, and she had the means to drive to News Diggers! and get her name cleared. She is also a top official in the ruling Patriotic Front, so she could easily walk into the minister’s office at Works and Supply to express her displeasure, as the matter dies down.
But imagine if this was an ordinary ex-civil servant who was retired ‘in national interest’, is no longer in good terms with the government of the day, and lost the receipt, which was the only proof that he or she paid the money. This woman would have been condemned in the eyes of the public and the courts, while the culprits who chewed her money look like heroes.
This is beyond unfairness, it is incompetence of the highest order, which must be condemned with the ridicule it deserves. As supervisors, Madam Musunga and her minister must be ashamed for, first of all, lying to Parliament, and for defaming the character of innocent people.
We now demand, and it is only fair, that the ministry checks its records properly so that they can give the media factual news of who truly owes the government. We know some are still in Cabinet and those are the crooks we must name and shame!