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Urgently audit Covid-19 funds: MPs

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THE parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has called for an immediate audit into government ministries, departments and agencies as revelations show millions of dollars could have been lost to corruption scandals during the Covid-19 pandemic, The NewsHawks has learnt.

NATHAN GUMA/ PRISCA TSHUMA 

While the actual amount is not known, PAC says most of the funds are yet to be accounted for since the start of the pandemic, with audits yet to be thoroughly done.

The revelations come at a time when Zimbabwe’s corruption fight is in a shambles, as shown by the country’s latest ranking on the Corruption Perception Index (CPI), released by Transparency International Zimbabwe (TIZ) this week.

Zimbabwe maintained 23/100 score, placing it 157th out of 180 countries, only four points above the bottom 10.

Government ministries have been failing to account for their procurement processes during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to findings by the PAC in a report presented by Dzivaresekwa MP Edwin Mushoriwa at an all-stakeholders’ meeting on procurement convened by TIZ this week.

Findings by PAC have shown that the ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare is yet to account for a ZW$89 022 103 windfall meant to cushion vulnerable people affected by effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The report availed to The NewsHawks shows that some of the allowances processed through the NetOne platform in July 2020 for 873 beneficiaries at ZW$300 each had not been collected from Buhera and Umzingwane District Social Welfare offices, which is said to have been caused by poor record keeping by the department.

In another instance, the same address was used by over 1 107 beneficiaries making it difficult to track them.

According to the committee, the ministry has been showing lack of seriousness in dealing with the issues.

“The explanation from the Ministry was not satisfactory to the Committee as the internal audit referred to should have been conducted and concluded before the commencement of the Committee’s enquiry. The Committee had no option but to note the Ministry officials’ lack of seriousness in addressing the anomalies.

“The Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) and Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) should institute investigations on the issue of duplicate beneficiaries with a view to prosecuting those guilty of any wrong doing within 180 days of tabling this report,” it read.

More illicit deals show that millions are yet to be accounted for, with some retail outlets failing to deliver food items paid for since the pandemic.

“A sample of documents reviewed revealed that groceries worth $2 998 078 were procured from April 2020 up to the time of the audit in December 2020. There was no evidence that the Provincial Office developed a procurement plan for the goods that were to be procured for the Quarantine Centres,” according to the report.

Government departments have also been failing to account for donated fuel.
According to the report, the Mashonaland Central Provincial Social Welfare Office issued 780 litres’ worth of fuel coupons without supporting fuel requisitions for the period.

PAC says the ministry’s failure to submit to a list of beneficiaries and the purpose for the fuel used is construed as an attempt to conceal theft, hence the need for investigations by ZRP.
Recent reports by the Auditor-General have also shown that the ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare has been failing to account for fuel meant for disaster management.

According to the Auditor-General’s 2021 AG’s report, the ministry failed to account for thousands of litres of fuel donated to the government to alleviate the effects of drought and other natural hazards under the National Drought Fund, raising questions of accountability.

Findings revealed that some funds were misappropriated to non-Covid-related costs, which PAC says needs regularisation.

“The Auditor-General (AG) observed that funds amounting to $581 945 were disbursed for refurbishment of Gweru Infectious Diseases Hospital through the Municipality of Gweru in order to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 disease. The Department of Public Works in Midlands Province was tasked to carry out all the procurement processes on behalf of the Municipality.

“Funds were redirected to refurbish Mkoba 1 Clinic and there were no supporting documents and progress reports to support usage of the funds. Consequently, the Hospital remained not fully equipped thereby rendering it unsuitable to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The use of funds on non-prioritised Covid-19 costs may have been for a noble cause.

“However, officials must at all times operate within the legal framework. In this instance, authority should have been sought,” according to the report.

Zimbabwe is no stranger to shoddy procurement deals in times of disaster, some of which have seen misuse of public funds by various departments, raising public outrage.

For instance, in 2020, Zimbabwe’s health ministry was caught pants down in the Draxgate scandal that resulted in the dismissal of former minister of health minister Obadiah Moyo on the allegation of abuse of office by corruptly issuing US$60 million in tenders to supply Covid-19 test kits and medical equipment to obscure companies linked to the political elites.

The deal saw tenders being given to the shadowy company, with a surgical face mask being sold at US$28, among other inflated goods. This is contrary to the initial cost of the masks which cost US$2 for 50 units.

During that period, the ministry of Finance also took over the procurement of vaccines after the ministry of Health debacle, an act that was shrouded in secrecy and misrepresentation.
Minister of Finance Mthuli Ncube claimed that Zimbabwe had used over US$100 million from the budget surplus to procure vaccines and other accessories.

According to the state-run The Herald of 23 September 2021, Ncube was quoted as saying Treasury had used US$127 million to procure Covid-19 vaccine doses and 15 million syringes from various countries to boost the national vaccination programme.

However, upon interrogation in December 2022 by Parliament for the Special Drawing Rights (SDR) funds availed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Ncube claimed to have used part of the fundsto procure vaccines, according to the report.  

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