Fresh details emerge on Parliament rot
FRESH details have emerged on alleged financial mismanagement by Parliament’s administration, with the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) demanding answers from the Finance ministry and the Procurement Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Praz).
The development comes as the nation is in the grip of a scandal in which clerk of Parliament Kennedy Chokuda and his team had agreed to a tender for the supply of laptops at US$9 000 each, yet on the market the same gadgets cost just under US$1 300.
Parliament finally cancelled a tender it awarded to a shadowy company, Blinart Investments (Private) Limited, which was blacklisted recently over the discredited US$1.6 million laptop supply deal.
Secretary for Finance and Economic Development George Guvamatanga had previously released a damning report, saying Treasury had rejected the tender awarded to Blinart Investments by Parliament for the supply of 173 laptops priced at US$9264.48 each, translating to US$1 602 755.77.
The NewsHawks this week gathered that Parliament’s PAC led by Gweru Urban MP Brian Dube had unearthed more cases of maladministration of public funds by Parliament between 2019 and 2020.
In a consolidated memorandum by the committee dated 20 September 2022 addressed to Kennedy Chokuda (pictured) as Parliament’s head of administration and obtained by The NewsHawks, the PAC expressed concern that the 2019 and 2020 financial books of the House were in a shambles.
On reconciliation of expenditures by Parliament, the PAC noted that there was a total amount of ZW$47 million which had not been accounted for. Part of the memorandum by the PAC reads: “In 2019 auditors noted that there were variances in expenditure figures disclosed in the Sub-Paymaster General’s Account (Sub-PMG) and the funds management report in the Public Finance Management System (PFMS).”
“The PFMS report had a total expenditure of ZW$220 572 947 whilst the Sub-PMG had total expenditure of ZW$173 515 670 resulting in a variance of ZW$47 057 275.” “There was no evidence of existence of a control system that ensures timely investigation and resolution of the variances by relevant officials.”
The PAC also flagged Chokuda and his team over Parliament’s 2020 financial books.
“In 2020, the Sub-Paymaster General (PMG)’s Account Reconciliation statement was not submitted for au dit contrary to the requirement of Treasury Circular Number (2) of 2021.”
“At the time of audit in June 2021, Sub-PMG’s Account monthly reconciliations statements for the 2020 financial year had not been prepared. This was in violation of Section (61) (1) of the Public Finance Management (Treasury Instructions), 2019 which requires the Director of Finance to submit to the Accountant-General each month, a reconciliation, covering the previous month’s transactions.”
The PAC also discovered that there were discrepancies in the salary schedules of Parliament amounting to over ZW$1 million in 2019. The committee noted that in 2019, the Salary Services Bureau (SSB) records for employment costs at Parliament had a total of ZW$29 762 918 while the Public Financial Management System (PFMS) ledgers at Parliament had a total amount of ZW$27 967 054, resulting in a variance of ZW$1 795 864 that was not reconciled.
The development meant that the money released by the government through the SSB for Parliament’s salaries exceeded what the House had recorded in its actual financial books.
Treasury circular B/1/88 dated 5 June 2018 requested directors of finance of line ministries to perform monthly reconciliations of billed amounts by the SSB against employment cost expenditure shown in PFMS ledgers.
However, Dube’s committee questioned in its memorandum why there was no evidence in Parliament’s records showing that monthly reconciliations were being done in 2019 in line with the Treasury circular.
The NewsHawks also gathered that the same problem of non-reconciliation of funds persisted in 2020, resulting in a variance of ZW$13 585 737 between SSB records for compensation of employee costs and the PFMS ledgers.
The SSB records had a total of ZW$176 398 034 while PFMS ledgers had a total amount of ZW$162 812 297.
The PAC is also questioning revelations that a total of ZW$15 347 443 (US$613 893) direct payments were made on behalf of Parliament by the ministry of Finance and Economic Development but were not disclosed in the House’s appropriation account for the year 2020.
Another shocking revelation by the PAC was that 34 documents, being hard-copy payment vouchers with a value of ZW$14 220 243, are nowhere to be found at Parliament.
The PAC, in its memorandum to Chokuda, also questioned why in 2020 Parliament administration delayed in banking US$16 062 by a period ranging from 60 to 135 days, contrary to section 48 (3) of the Public Finance Management (Treasury Instructions) which stipulates that money be deposited daily in the local bank for the credit of the Exchequer account.
Section 46 (11) of the Public Finance Management (Treasury Instructions) of 2019 requires separate officials at public institutions to perform receipting and banking functions, but in the period 2019 and 2020 it was discovered that at Parliament these duties were being undertaken by only one person, in yet another development unsettling the PAC.
The committee, in its memorandum, also demanded answers on the distribution of 11 400 litres of fuel and 11 200 litres of petrol supposedly given to MPs in 2020 after it emerged that Parliament’s records were not indicating the serial numbers of the coupons and the dates when the fuel coupons were issued, contrary to section 104 (1) of the Public Finance Management (Treasury Instructions) of 2019.
A review of the MPs’ fuel register revealed that 22 020 litres (3 760 petrol and 18 260 diesel) coupons distributed in March, June, October and November 2020 had incomplete serial numbers recorded, which again raises eyebrows and suspicion of abuse of the facility.
In an interview with The NewsHawks, PAC chairperson Dube confirmed that the committee had sent the memorandum to the clerk of Parliament with the consolidated questions and received oral answers on 26 and 27 September just before the issue of laptops was discussed at the committee’s hearing attended by Chokuda.
“The responses from Parliament administration were generally agreeing that the observations we made were correct and they were working on improving systems… They also bemoaned the Treasury’s delay in giving concurrency for Parliament to beef up its staff as their finance and audit units are seriously understaffed,” said MP Dube.
Asked if the PAC was satisfied with the responses, MP Dube said: “We don’t make recommendations without completing enquiries. We are yet to invite Praz and ministry of Finance as well as some of the suppliers.”
MP Dube would not shed light on whether his committee will recommend disciplinary action against Parliament’s administrators should investigations confirm the misappropriation of public funds.
“We do not need to speculate very far. It’s prejudicial to the ongoing process,” said the Gweru Urban MP. Contacted for comment, Chokuda said it would be premature for him to respond to allegations of financial misappropriation by Parliament’s administration before the PAC concludes its investigation and produces a report spelling out the findings.
“These issues were responded to at PAC and we await their report on the matter. It would be improper for me to comment further,” he said.