FINANCE and Economic Development ministry permanent secretary George Guvamatanga (pictured) and his team on Monday failed to appear before Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to give oral evidence on the government’s US$9.6 billion budget over-expenditure incurred between 2015 and 2018.
This follows Treasury’s recent failure to submit information about the unauthorised expenditure to the Auditor-General and Parliament before the lapse of the seven-day ultimatum issued by the PAC three weeks ago.
In 2020, the government brought a Financial Adjustment Bill to Parliament as it sought condonation for the unapproved expenditure between 2015 and 2018 totalling US$9.6 billion.
According to the Bill, in 2015 Treasury exceeded the national budget by US$25 305 741, which ballooned to US$1 490 888 789 in 2016 and trebled to US$4 562 064 124 in 2017. The government overshot the budget by US$3 560 343 130 in 2018.
The Finance ministry has however failed to furnish the AG with the books despite numerous requests. The PAC has also failed to get access to the books despite summoning ministry officials four times between 2020 and 2022, leading rise to suspicions that there is an attempt to conceal how the money was spent.
Parliamentarians believe Treasury is taking advantage of the lapse of the Financial Adjustments Bill (2016 to 2018) in October 2020 to sweep the US$9.6 billion over-expenditure under the carpet.
The proposed condonation lapsed before it reached the second reading stage when the 2019-20 parliamentary sessions ended. The National Assembly, through the PAC, has however continued to pursue the matter.
Three weeks ago, the committee grilled Treasury’s acting accountant-general Edwin Zvandasara, who was standing in for Finance permanent secretary Guvamatanga, over the failure to furnish the AG’s office and Parliament with adequate information justifying the unauthorised expenditure.
During the meeting, MPs accused the Finance ministry officials of disrespecting Parliament and the people of Zimbabwe. They issued the ministry a seven-day ultimatum to submit unauthorised expenditure information to the AG’s office for validation purposes and bring copies to Parliament.
Guvamatanga on 12 August wrote to the PAC requesting the meeting be postponed.
“Please be advised that due to preparations by the Ministry for the Zimbabwe Economic Development Conference (ZEDCON 2022) held in Victoria falls from the 10th to the 12th of August 2022, where the Ministry hosted his Excellency, the President and various stakeholders, treasury staff will only be travelling back to the office over the weekend. In view of the above, we request more time to prepare for the engagement, and seek the committee indulge to postpone the scheduled meeting at a future date,” the letter read.
Prior to this, Treasury officials on 22 June 2020 were dragged to Parliament after they were nearly served with a warrant of arrest for boycotting appearing before the PAC.
The then committee chairperson, Tendai Biti, blasted them, saying: “We have called you here for the Financial Adjustment Bill but before we ask you questions the committee would like to express its displeasure because of your continuous disrespect of this committee.’’
“We were supposed to see you before the lockdown. We wrote letters to your office and we had agreed on timeframes and you said you could not make it because you had other business. We had agreed as a Committee that had you not come today, we were going to ask the Clerk of Parliament to issue a warrant in terms of the Parliamentary Privileges Act.”
The committee agreed to give some Treasury leeway to come up with timelines by which the Finance ministry would have submitted the figures mentioned in the Financial Adjustment Bill to the AG.
By 5 October, when another oral evidence session was convened on the same issue, Finance ministry representatives led by the then acting permanent secretary, Pfungwa Kunaka, after being reprimanded by then PAC chairperson Tendai Biti, said: “We do record the issues that have been brought before us and we have itemised them. We are conscious that you have asked us to address the issue of timing of submission of the Financial Adjustment Bill. We also indicated the need where there are figures which have not been audited to have engagements with ministries so that what we bring in the Financial Adjustment Bill has consent of the line ministries.
“We humbly submit that we still feel that we need to go through this process of condonation. Yes we are over and above the 60 days but we feel that this is a process which is required to regularise those years (2015-2018),” he said.
Kunaka and his team asked the committee to allow them to follow their proposed roadmap with regards the submission of adequate information justifying unauthorised expenditure of over US$9.6 billion, which committee chair Biti granted, saying: “We are pleased to report that the committee has accepted your timelines and your roadmap as contained in your submissions to this committee today – 5th of October 2020.”
Two years down the line, Auditor-General Mildred Chiri is yet to gain access to documents revealing how the money was spent, while legislators are pressing public officials to account for the massive taxpayer funds.
It remains to be seen as to whether anything tangible will material from the PAC’s upcoming oral evidence session with Treasury scheduled for this coming Monday.