PERMANENT secretaries were yesterday rapped over the knuckles by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Accounts (PAC) for under- or overspending, vacancies that are not being filled on time, recurring Tender Board exemptions and an increase in bursaries awarded to civil servants.
This came to light during a consultative meeting between PAC and the ministerial accounting officers.
Overspending in six ministries in 2010 amounted to N$484 million. In 2009, overspending in five ministries was N$197 million.
Conversely, overall underspending, which the PAC said was a recurring trend in some ministries, stood at N$441 million in 2010, and N$540 million in 2009.
The chairperson of the PAC, Usutuaije Maamberua, said underspending of budgets was not only counter-productive but had an effect on the implementation of important government projects.
Without being specific, Auditor General Junius Kandjeke added that three ministries had overspent their budgets for 10 years.
Another serious concern expressed by the PAC is a growing tendency in some government institutions to keep large balances in their suspense accounts, with apparently little effort to reconcile and clear these accounts.
Kandjeke said this was a risk area for fraud, as large amounts of money could be Â“hiddenÂ” in the suspense accounts.
The PAC thus suggested a monthly reconciliation of minstriesÂ’ suspense accounts.
The committee further said millions of dollars were returned to the treasury every year because vacancies remained unfilled.
It also observed an increase in bursaries and study loans granted to civil servants, with no apparent link between their work and fields of study.
Maamberua said the PAC was concerned about the procedure of awarding these bursaries, and commented that there seemed to be a lack of uniform procedures on criteria, conditions and management of the bursary awards.
The committee also said from audit reports it became apparent that government institutions violated Tender Board regulations by spending more than what was approved or allowed.
Secretary to Cabinet Frans Kapofi said overspending in ministries was due to “real-life issues that cannot be avoided”.
“I do not think that any permanent secretary willingly decides to spend [more] money; that is unheard of,” Kapofi said.
He said vacancies were not filled because the public sector failed to attract qualified staff.
He was however quick to add that government positions should not be used to create employment, but to get the right people to do the job.
The PAC also complained about non-implementation of a number of capital projects, but Kapofi ascribed this to a skills shortage in government, while more capital projects are added annually without clearing the backlog first.
PSes also ascribed the slow implementation of capital projects to late budget approval.
The permanent secretary of the Ministry of Lands, Lidwina Shapwa, proposed that the accounting officers be given the power to hire and fire staff. At the moment, the Public Service Commission approves appointments.
The permanent secretary of the Ministry of Health and Social Services, Andrew Ndishishi, suggested that laws and regulations guiding the work of accounting officers were outdated, rendering their work “too bureaucratic”.
PSes also complained that they were overextended because it was obligatory for each of them to serve on no fewer than seven public institutions’ boards.