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Auditor General goes after Covid-19 funds

Pascalinah Kabi

AUDITOR General Lucy Liphafa has begun auditing the government’s Coronavirus (Covid-19) budget.

In a letter to the principal secretary for cabinet administration, Kabelo Lehora, this week, Ms Liphafa’s office said the “comprehensive audit” was aimed at establishing whether all the information provided by the National Covid-19 Secretariat (NACOSEC) tallies with its activities and financial transactions.

“The audit will be done in three stages, namely the preliminary audit, main audit and follow-up,” a staffer at the auditor general’s office, Monica Besetsa, states in the letter to Mr Lehora.

“The audit will be conducted in accordance with the International Standards of Supreme Audit Institutions (ISSAIs), which requires auditors to plan and conduct the audit with professional skepticism and exercise professional judgement throughout the audit process.”

Mr Lehora confirmed receiving the letter from Ms Liphafa’s office. He however, refused to give details, saying the matter was confidential.

“It is true that I received a communication from the office of the auditor general. But I cannot go into details of that communication. It is a confidential communication between our two offices,” Mr Lehora said.

On her part, the information officer in the office of the auditor general, ‘Matšepo Mohau, said the audit was a confidential matter for the time being.

“We are at a very confidential stage as we are still planning on how to do it. Auditing is evolving and we want to do the audits during the act (actual spending of the Covid-19 budget) and not wait until afterwards,” Ms Mohau said.

The audit comes against the background of a public outcry that NACOSEC, then known as the National Emergency Command Centre (NECC), wasted significant chunks of the M698 million Covid-19 budget on food and luxuries for its staffers.

A leaked April 2020 NECC document showed that instead of actually doing meaningful work to fight Covid-19, the NECC wasted scare funds on morning tea, lunch and dinner for its personnel.

According to the document, tea, lunch and dinner were budgeted at M180 each for the 70 persons at the command centre. There are other inflated expenses including that of a single non-contact thermometer budgeted at a staggering M500 000.

Desktop internet research shows that M3000 would be enough to buy one such thermometer in South Africa. Although the NECC’s former chairperson, Communications Minister Thesele ‘Maseribane, said the leaked document was only an estimated not final budget, it however gave a clear indication of the wastefulness and lack of focus in the fight against Covid-19 by the now disbanded NECC.

While the NECC were wining and dining, hospitals and other health facilities experienced shortages of equipment including intensive care unit (ICU) beds for Covid-19 patients.

Health professionals also embarked on a two week long strike to protest the government’s failure to award them risk allowances and personal protective equipment (PPE) to shield them from the deadly virus. The strike began on 13 July 2020 and only ended last Friday after the government agreed to give the health workers allowances ranging from M2000 to M3500 per worker per month. The government also began distributing PPE to the health workers last week.

It is only now that the health sector’s problems are receiving urgent attention after the appointment of Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA) commissioner general Thabo Khasipe as chief executive officer of NACOSEC.

Mr Khasipe’s appointment has been widely commended as he is known as an astute professional who will deliver in place of dithering politicians.

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