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Govt admits failure over Covid monthly cushioning allowance

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PUBLIC Service, Labour and Social Welfare secretary Simon Masanga has admitted that the government’s monthly Covid-19 cushioning allowance which was introduced by cabinet in March 2020 to help a “million” people, mostly from the informal sector, whose livelihoods had been affected by lockdowns was a failure.

MARY MUNDEYA

Masanga however said the extent of the failure could not be ascertained due to the unavailability of funds to conduct an internal audit.

The programme was eventually suspended in September 2020 at a time beneficiaries were getting an equivalent of US$3, only enough to buy a two-litre bottle of cooking oil or three loaves of bread. The government was also not clear on how beneficiaries were chosen, with Finance minister Mthuli Ncube saying a complex “algorithm” would be used.

Speaking before the parliamentary portfolio committee on Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, Masanga admitted the Covid-19 monthly cushioning allowance programme had failed to produce the intended impact.

“We haven’t carried out an impact assessment, but I doubt we achieved intended the intention,” he said.

Masanga attributed the failure of the programme to his ministry’s involvement in other Covid-19-related programmes.

“Please note at the same time we were given another assignment to run quarantine centres throughout the country. The same officers and accountants were also processing payments for food for the returning residents who had to be quarantined for 21 days. Ministry was also scaling up its traditional programmes such as Harmonised Social Cash Transfers, Food Deficit Mitigation Strategy, AMTOS (Social Welfare Public Assistance Programme), pauper burials, rounding up of children and adults living in the streets and dealing with rising cases of child abuse. Consequently, data for eligible beneficiaries was received from local authorities, small and medium enterprises, vendor associations and other interest groups which amongst others included Child Protection Committee cadres, faith-based leaders and councillors,” he said.

Masanga said although some data was collected, it was not realiable, given it lacked correct contact details, with a sizeable number of beneficiaries having similar identity numbers and addresses.

He said a notable number of beneficiaries refused to collect the monthly Covid-19 cushioning allowance because it was too small.

The ministry also experienced limited mobility for monitoring and evaluation, making it difficult to verify if the allowances were being paid to the deserving beneficiaries.

“Due to the cited shortcomings, there was little uptake of the allowances by intended beneficiaries who initially received ZW$180 which was later reviewed to ZW$300 from July 1 2020. Due to the figure of the monthly allowance being too small to make an impact, some of the data provided was not reliable as it lacked correct contact details and many names were rejected at ministry and by the service provider,” Masanga said.

“A sizeable number of beneficiaries on the database had similar identity numbers and addresses and there was limited mobility for monitoring and evaluation, making it difficult to verify if allowances were being paid to deserving beneficiaries.”

Masanga said a special audit report of the Auditor-General on the Covid-19 pandemic financial management and utilisation of public resources in the country’s provinces by ministries and state agencies had highlighted a number of red flags such as the failure to access the allowance by the rightful beneficiaries, inadequate record keeping, unreliable databases and duplicate payments to beneficiaries.

However, he sad his ministry does not have the capacity to do an internal audit due to the unavailability of funds.

“It’s not possible, you know in auditing you require to go to the 65 district offices and all I was saying yes, physically it’s possible, but financially very impossible. The funding is inadequate. We have an operational budget, but most of my funding is directed towards programmes. The administrative budget is very thin and the auditors are supported by the admin budget. Verification is necessary, but it’s now the cost of doing the verification versus the availability of funds,” Masanga said.

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