22 June 2012

Zimbabwe: Auditor-General Censures Chombo

THE Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG), Mildred Chiri has rapped the decision by Local Government Minister, Ignatius Chombo to pay out huge allowances to investigating committees, which saw some individuals in the probe teams taking home more than US$50 000 each.

Since the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) secured dominion of the majority of the country's local authorities from ZANU-PF during the 2008 general elections, the Local Government Minister has appointed a number of committees to probe alleged corruption by councillors aligned to Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's party.

But in a report, Chiri said the State was losing a lot of financial resources through the exorbitant allowances paid to the investigating teams, adding that the payments should be probed. The government's top auditor said the amounts involved were well above the amounts laid down by government.

"The amount paid varied between US$5 000 paid to interpreters to US$52 720 paid to some chairperson of committees. The fees paid were in all cases far in excess of those authorised by the Treasury circular on fees payable to members of boards and committees," reads part of Chiri's report.

"I was not provided with competent authority for the payment of the fees outside those authorised as in the instant. Although no budget existed for this service, the payments were met from the Training and Development expenses, Domestic Travel and Local Government Board items of the Ministry's vote."

The report said 25 members of committees that were set up to investigate allegations of irregularities in Harare, Rusape and Redcliff were paid amounts totalling US$394 621.

The amounts translates to nearly US$15 784per individual. Recent media reports indicated that Chitungwiza municipality workers threatened to go on strike after a five member investigating committee appointed by Chombo received huge payouts when employees were not receiving salaries.

Manicaland Provincial Administrator, Fungai Mbetsa, who led the team was said to be receiving US$26 525 in salaries and allowances per month while his deputy received US$14 500. Committee members received US$13 500 each.

However, Mbetsa claimed he was being paid US$16 000 per month, in addition to US$2 000 for his accommodation at a local hotel.

Despite the municipality failing to meet essential services, Chombo wrote to the dormitory town's council ordering it to foot the bill.

Investigations unearthed rampant corruption at Chitungwiza municipality, nearly two years after the minister had rejected calls by the MDC-T to fire the councillors in a move that would have stopped the continued plunder of the council resources and possible huge pay-outs to the probe team.

"An investigation must be carried out to establish how the allowances were determined given that they were just paid as cash without indicating the breakdown," added the C&AG in response to the hefty payments.

Chiri added that the Local Government Ministry had written off loans for the purchase of 161 vehicles to traditional leaders under the Traditional Leaders Vehicle Loan Scheme without Treasury's approval.

The auditor recommended that beneficiaries should repay the loans so as to facilitate the continuity of the revolving fund for the benefit of other traditional leaders. She added that 27 Mitsubishi L200 pick up vehicles were also purchased for chiefs in November and December 2010, but she could not form an audit opinion on the efficacy of the scheme as it had not been regularised through a constitution and accounting instructions.

The top auditor said the Local Government Ministry had deliberately violated procurement procedures as prescribed in the Procurement Act and statutory instrument number 171 of 2002 through a number of purchases done for items exceeding US$500 000.

She said there are possible cases of corruption in the hire of buses to ferry mourners during state occasions to bury individuals who would have been declared as national heroes.

"The ministry hired buses during state occasions such as the burial of declared national heroes and of concern were the acute variations in hire charges not commensurate with distances covered," said Chiri.

In one of the noted cases, Munenzva Bus Company was

hired in October 2010 to ferry people from Bindura to Bulawayo and back at a cost of US$4 500 and the distance was 1 230 km while an AMC bus was also hire to ferry people from Marondera to Bulawayo and back at a cost of US$2 400, a distance of 1 190. The two journeys differ by 40km which does not justify the huge variance in pricing.

Meanwhile, the offices of the President and Prime Minister have been nailed by the C&AG for violating the country's laws on the management of public finances.

The top auditor said last year the President's Office failed to comply with statutory requirements stipulated in the Public Finance Management Act when it delayed submission of appropriation accounts in a development that affected progress of the national audit and production of the annual report.

She added that the Sub-Paymaster's General Account and the appropriation accounts reflected conflicting payments that differed by US$750 468, which posed the risk of having the former being charged with unauthorised expenditure.

Chiri said a number of purchases that were done were never recorded as part of the assets of the President's Office, and warned that could result in the loss of assets through theft.

Registers and debtor ledger accounts were also not being maintained for travel and subsistence in violation of treasury instructions.

On the other hand, Chiri said the Prime Minister's Office had incurred an unauthorised expenditure to the tune of US$776 144, US$193 205 of which were on salaries.

"Ineffective budgetary control systems resulted in unauthorised excess expenditure of US$776 144 being incurred in the following items: basic salaries - US$193 205; Vision Zimbabwe, US$24 349; Public Private Partnership US$18 407; Construction works US$40 183. Total- US$776 144," reads part of Chiri's report.

She added that the PM's Office had also violated treasury instructions in the submission of returns for payments to ministers and Members of Parliament; travelling and subsistence, statements on donor funded projects among others.

On the overall delays in the submission of accounts, the auditor said the Consolidated Revenue Fund was not submitted on time making it impossible to include the findings in her report.

Across ministries, she said there was a problem of some ministries not disclosing amounts received from donors which may lead to abuse.

"A number of ministries received donations from various donors during the year without obtaining treasury authority as outlined in treasury instruction 2012. Further to this, some of the ministries did not disclose the donations received in the year end returns. Failure to follow proper procedures for accepting donations and subsequent failure to maintain adequate records can result in total loss of the items donated," said Chiri.

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