FINANCE and Economic Development permanent secretary George Guvamatanga, who has on various occasions snubbed appearing before Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to give oral evidence on the government’s US$10 billion budget over-expenditure incurred between 2015 and 2018, says Accountant-General Edwin Zvandasara, who stood for him in his absence, was better placed to answer about the overrun since he has on the job more than him.
Zvandasara, who accompanied Guvamatanga, has appeared before the committee before but is yet to give Parliament the documents explaining the expenditure. He requested more time to retrieve required documents, angering PAC members.
Treasury has failed to submit information about the unauthorised expenditure to the Auditor-General and Parliament for the past two years.
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 Auditor-General with the books despite numerous requests. The PAC has also failed to gain access to the books despite summoning ministry officials four times between 2020 and 2022, giving rise to suspicions that there is an attempt to conceal how the money was spent.
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.
This week, the PAC committee questioned Guvamatanga over his failure to appear before the panel as well as Treasury’s subsequent non-submission of adequate information justifying the unauthorised expenditure to the AG’s office and Parliament within the stipulated dates.
Guvamatanga claimed that he was unavailable due to other commitments and that Treasury’s Zvandasara was the right man to respond to the PAC’s questions.
“Honourable chair, I had other commitments and I was not available, that’s why I then delegated my acting Accountant-General whom I believe has got the capacity to represent the ministry on these matters but I think you were not at a stage to hear evidence from him,” Guvamatanga said.
“We also just felt that the issues also under discussion, as much as I’m the accounting officer, remain accountable and responsible are very much historical and he is the one who was actually in that role in 2015, and much much more better placed actually to answer you,” Guvamatanga said.
Zvandasara has appeared before the committee before but is yet to give Parliament the documents explaining the expenditure.
Kuwadzana East legislator Chalton Hwende immediately voiced concern over Guvamatanga’s explanation, saying: “As you are aware, Parliament business must be taken seriously, so when you are summoned you don’t appear and don’t give any reasons as members of Parliament we would have preferred being given a reason, and an apology”.
In his defence Guvamatanga said: “We also allow delegation within the operations of government.” Guvamatanga requested that acting Accountant-General Zvandasara respond to PAC chairperson Brian Dube’s question as to why the Finance ministry has failed to submit documents required by the Auditor-General for authentication purposes since 2019.
“Thank you chairman, if I can just clarify. There are two issues. The first issue was the submission of amended appropriation accounts, where the committee indicated that they would pass through Parliament would then be transmitted to the Auditor-General’s office for validation. Then in subsequent engagement with the committee in July, the issue was then why has the validation not been done,” Zvandasara said.
“And as I indicated then, the expectation from our side was that the Auditor-General then go to the individual ministries, to carry out the validation and the committee then indicated that as Treasury, we needed to put the documentation together for all the ministers whose appropriation accounts have been amended and then submit them so that the validation process proceeds.
“Subsequent to that we did get a list from the Auditor-General’s office indicating their requirements to be able to carry out that exercise. This is where the committee chairman said that those documents should be submitted by the 29th. But unfortunately that is not possible, because we have to go and engage the ministries to then combine the documentation,” Zvandasara said.
Murehwa South MP Nyasha Masoka was not pleased with Zvandasara’s response and said: “Still, Mr Zvandasara, if you are getting the question right, it’s about the time frame. Are you saying these things are so hidden that you couldn’t get them in three years?”
In Zvandasara’s defence, Guvamatanga interjected Masoka, saying: “Mr chairman, if I may come in. I think this will actually look at the lapse of time between us now trying to reconcile and following proper procedures in terms of the Condonation Bill and putting everything together.
“I think it’s just an issue of proper recording keeping within government, especially when you see that this is seven years later from 2015 and, in some instances, the personnel that we were relying on to actually retrieve the documents have actually moved on and were no-longer available and this was also during the same Covid times where most staff were not working from the office,” he said.
Kambuzuma legislator Willias Madzimure bemoaned the poor record keeping in government ministries and departments, saying: “This is exactly the circle that we are going to have. We have another condonation coming and we will have the same story that people have moved on and whatever was lost, there is no need to account.
“I believe institutions are made for the sake of them keeping the institutional memory, meaning that our recording ministries’ recording systems must be full proof. This is precisely why we are trying to make them computerise and to have good record keeping. If we are going to abandon this on the basis that we have moved on, then there is no need for even us to be asked to account for anything.”
Guvamatanga dismissed Madzimure’s contribution and accused Parliament of having slept on the job and not raising any issue about the over-expenditure before Treasury came to seek condonation.
“This issue was an issue that had been ignored by Parliament and we actually felt that that’s not the way we do business. This initiative of bringing the condonation actually came from Treasury, but when we brought it to yourselves, you did find some shortcomings which you then asked us to go and address,” Guvamatanga said.
“So, it’s not like Parliament or the PAC committee actually came to us and said there is a shortcoming, we went back and looked at what the law says about overspending, and despite that this was a new government, we said let’s go back to whatever period we last went to Parliament to seek condonation and regularise this improper conduct,” Guvamatanga said.
PAC and the Treasury delegation agreed to a 30 September 2022 deadline for the submission of the remaining documents so that the pending validation process can be done by the Auditor-General.