Audit report divides MPs

MASERU — A report by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on the AuditorGeneral’s financial reports for 2004/5 and 2005/6 has split MPs.

There was heated debate in parliament on Tuesday after the chairman of the committee, Moeketse Malebo, proposed that the report be adopted by the House.

The report cites several government ministries as having abused their allocated budgets which led to “excess expenditure” during the 2004/5 and 2005/6 financial years.

The report alleges the expenditures were the result of ministries failing to adhere to the Finance Order 1988, Financial Regulations 1973 and Stores Regulations 1967.  

But the greatest indictment was on Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s office, which according to the report overshot its budget by a whopping M8 million in one year.

This was despite the Prime Minister’s office being given a supplementary budget for two consecutive years.

The public accounts committee is made up of MPs from both the opposition and the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) party.

After the first reading, the deputy speaker of the National Assembly, Sephiri Motanyane, moved a motion to adopt the report.

He was seconded by  Basutoland African Congress former leader Khauhelo Ralitapole.

However, the proposal to adopt the report was met with fierce resistance from Public Services Minister Semano Sekatle who labelled the report “misleading”.

“The report cannot be adopted in its current form.

“I’ve got mixed feelings regarding this report, whether it should be adopted or be first subjected to amendment,” Sekatle said. 

Sekatle questioned the merits on which the report should be adopted instead arguing that it be “amended before it can be adopted”.

As Sekatle spoke, several MPs from the opposition shouted that Sekatle did not like the report as he was “protecting your head”.

Sekatle was the principal secretary in the Ministry of Public Services in the period covered by the report.

Sekatle complained that the report was misleading and that the “current media reports reflect badly on the office of the Prime Minister”.

“This report is inaccurate and wrong. It is not written well which is misleading. It could cause problems,” Sekatle said.

“It does not directly address issues concerning financial accounts but instead dwells mainly on critisising government ministries.”

Sekatle argued that there were items in the report which were just written without providing a broad explanation justifying “why they feature in the report”.

As he spoke, members of the public accounts committee from both the opposition and LCD shouted that “you’re not making sense”.

The MP for Matsieng constituency, Mootsi Lehata, shouted that Sekatle should “go back and read the report”.

“Obviously you have not read the report. Go and read it first before criticising it,” said Lehata.

Lehata had during the first reading of the report explained that it was not the first time that the PAC was presenting a report in parliament indicating the abuse of public funds by ministries.

“Again, year in and year out the auditor-general expresses similar concerns regarding expenditures,” Lehata said.

“This means we have to take a different direction to avoid making similar mistakes in future. Financial regulations should be adhered to.

“As the PAC we are worried and feel screws should be tightened to ensure the proper use of public funds.”

Lehata added that the Auditor-General’s report indicated that civil servants lent themselves government monies without authorisation “which leads to unnecessary shortfalls”.

“This is why government estimates are hardly ever reached. Receipts are not accounted for and measures are never put in place to remedy the situation and bring corrupt people to book,” he said.

“In cases whereby measures are taken to bring civil servants to book, police dockets often disappear. This creates a breeding ground for corruption.”

Ralitapole said there were weaknesses in the Auditor-General’s report regarding the insignificant surcharges imposed on government officials “who allow overspending”.

“Imposing just M600 on an official who lets overspending go unnoticed is wrong. This will not in any way encourage people to change their attitudes,” Ralitapole said.

Rantelali Shea of the Lesotho Workers’ Party blamed the abuse of state funds on what he called “untouchable sharks within government ministries”.

“There are people within government ministries who seem to be above the law as they are never brought to book,” Shea said.

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