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Social welfare systems in shambles



THE Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare ministry has come under scrutiny after it emerged that a manual for its Harmonised Social Cash Transfer (HSCT) programme for cushioning underprivileged people was last updated more than a decade ago, raising questions over its effectiveness.


The HSCT was introduced in 2011 to cushion 55 000 ultra-poor, food insecure and labour-constrained households through cash transfers.

Objectives of the programme include enabling recipient households to increase consumption above the poverty line, reduce the number of ultra-poor households and help beneficiaries avoid risky coping strategies such as child labour and early marriage.

The acting Auditor-General, Rheah Kujinga, in the latest Appropriation Accounts, Finance and Revenue Statements and Fund Accounts, says the manual being used by the HSCT programme was last updated in 2012, when the ministry was paying hard cash to beneficiaries.

“The payment method has since changed to electronic transfers hence the manual is no longer relevant. This was contrary to section 157 (2) (a) of the Public Finance Management (Treasury Instructions) 2019 which states that it is the responsibility of Accounting Officers to put in place a cost-effective system of internal controls that addresses the Ministry’s risks.

“The absence of an updated Operational Manual may result in inconsistencies occurring in the implementation of the programme. This may hinder the achievement of its objectives. The Ministry should ensure that the Harmonised Social Cash Transfer Programme manual is updated for effective implementation of the programme,” reads the report.

While the ministry said the manual will be reviewed in the 2023 financial year to take into account changes that may have occurred to the programme, the AG’s report has also unearthed more irregularities, with the ministry operating without a data recovery plan (DRP).

A DRP is a recorded policy or process that is designed to assist an organisation in executing recovery processes in response to a disaster to protect business information technology (IT) infrastructure and more generally promote recovery.

“I also noted that the Ministry did not have a Disaster Recovery Plan (DRP) to enable it to continue offering critical services in the event of disruption and to survive a disastrous interruption of services. Section 157 (2) (a) of the Public Finance Management (Treasury Instructions) 2019 requires the Ministry to establish and maintain an effective, efficient and transparent system of financial and risk management and internal controls,” reads the report.

“The Ministry did not perform formal risk assessments during the year under review. This was contrary to the requirements of Section 162 (1) of the Public Finance Management (Treasury Instructions), 2019 which requires Accounting Officers to carry out a risk assessment of their Ministries’ operations on an annual basis and take deliberate steps to identify, quantify, assess, document and come up with mitigation measures for the risks identified.

“The Ministry would be exposed to risks which could negatively impact its performance. Data and assets may be lost in the event of a disaster. The Ministry should carry out risk assessments and come up with measures to mitigate any emerging potential risks.”

Previous investigations by The NewsHawks have shown that the government has been failing to roll out social welfare funds.

For instance, the government failed to cushion vulnerable people using dividends from a US$1 billion Special Drawing Rights (SDR) windfall from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which Finance minister Mthuli Ncube said, among other things, would be used to support those hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.

In August 2021, the IMF disbursed SDR allocations of US$650 billion to help the global economy cope with the major setback caused by Covid-19 and the need to rebuild forex reserves. Zimbabwe as a member received its share of US$1 billion, which Ncube promised to use towards areas that have been affected by Covid-19.

“We have about US$1 billion. The idea is that the SDRs will be channeled towards areas that have been affected by Covid-19. So we will invest the SDRs in the health, agriculture, education, roads, industry and manufacturing, mining sectors, and supporting the vulnerable,” Ncube said when the money was disbursed by the IMF.

Minister Ncube also said that “some vulnerable people, whose livelihoods were devastated by Covid-19 following the imposition of lockdown measures that sought to limit movement, were to get cash transfers”.

The government failed to give cash transfers to victims.

Revelations from the 2021 report also showed that the Social Welfare ministry has been raiding the Disabled People’s Fund without Treasury’s knowledge, thereby prejudicing people with disability (PWDs).

Findings by then Auditor-General Mildred Chiri for the year ended 31 December 2021 showed that the Disabled People’s Fund made payments on behalf of the ministry amounting to ZW$181 391 in 2019, an amount that has not yet been reimbursed.

“It is acknowledged that at the time of audit, the sum of ZW$181 391 was outstanding arising from advances which had been made to the parent ministry. Prior Treasury authority had not been sought. The Ministry shall endeavour to desist from borrowing from the Statutory Funds and all the amounts that have been borrowed shall be reimbursed before close of the 2022 financial year,” reads the report.

“There was no evidence that Treasury authority had been sought as outlined by Section 116 (9) of the Public Finance Management (Treasury Instructions), 2019 that the accounting authority should seek Treasury authority before utilising funds from statutory fund accounts for funding the Appropriation Account,” she said.

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