23 November 2017

Namibia: Omaheke Region's Finances a Mess ... As Leadership Clings to Power

The Omaheke regional council has been receiving negative audit opinions from auditor general Junias Kandjeke over the past three years because of financial mismanagement and non-compliance with the State Finance Act.

In the 2015/16 audit report submitted to the National Assembly, Kandjeke highlighted several anomalies within the finance department of the regional council, including the non-submission of expenditure records amounting to over N$15 million, unexplained differences on development expenditure, and overstatement of suppliers' costs.

The audit also found that the regional council squandered about N$33 million.

Kandjeke furthermore reported that the regional council has been paying over N$160 000 per month to outsource accounting services, despite having a fully-functional finance department.

"For the year under review, the Omaheke regional council paid N$4,2 million for accounting services," Kandjeke stated.

He added that the value-added tax returns were also outsourced to a consultancy which was paid over N$400 000 during the year under review.

Although the accounting functions had been outsourced, auditors found that the regional council failed to collect revenue from the local authority levy of 5% from constituencies.

Apart from the mismanagement of finances, the Omaheke regional council has also not been complying with public service staff rules and regulations.

There have been complaints that the council has been deliberately renewing the contract of acting chief regional officer Maria Vendanawa, despite recommendations by the Public Service Commission (PSC) to rotate the position among directors at the authority.

There are two directors at the regional council, including Vendanawa, who has been acting for four years after former chief regional officer Pedereus Tjihoreko was suspended for mismanagement.

Usually, if a regional council has more than one director, the Public Service Commission Act dictates that each be allowed to act as chief regional officer for not more than 12 months.

The deputy permanent secretary of the PSC secretariat, Benhardt Kukuri, told The Namibian this week that several complaints had been brought to his office involving deliberate moves to keep Vendanawa in power.

He said the issue was also picked up by the monitoring and evaluation team of the commission after an audit was conducted at the regional council this year. Although Kukuri said the issue was reported to the commission, they could not act because their mandate was only to carry out a compliance audit.

"Our mandate is only to conduct a compliance audit to make sure that staff rules and policies are being followed by different ministries and government agencies," Kukuri stressed.

He said the commission had advised the council to comply with the Public Service Act that stipulates the rotation of staff acting in the CRO position, but the final decision lies with "the councils themselves".

The rotation of staff members in an acting position is normally done to allow all staff members who are qualified to get exposure and experience so that they can compete on an equal footing for the position once it becomes available.

Kukuri said the commission was still to meet the regional council to deliberate on the findings to find out whether their recommendations have indeed been implemented.

Several council members, however, said the report from the PSC was never discussed at several council meetings, despite being submitted to the chief regional office after the audit was done.

As a result, council resolved to extend Vendanawa's contract.

"That is withholding of information by the acting CRO. She is the administrator, so she was supposed to communicate that information to the council for the council to make an informed decision," a source said, adding that the acting CRO is mired in a conflict of interest.

A director of planning and development at the Omaheke regional council, Karukirue Tjijenda, also confirmed to The Namibian this week that the report from the PSC was never tabled before council.

"I am not aware of the report, and the findings thereof. But I am aware that some staff members have approached the council on several occasions, but they decided not to entertain it," he said, adding that he was aware of the audit that took place.

Vendanawa was not reachable to comment. Her secretary, however, told The Namibian that she was attending a meeting.

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