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Covid-19 expenditure under scrutiny

by Lesotho Times
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…as Public Accounts Committee grills PS and other Covid-19 staff.

Tokelo Khausela

PARLIAMENT’S Public Accounts Committee (PAC) this week grilled the principal secretary to the Prime Minister’s Office, Mapeo Matlanyane, and other officials who were employed in 2020 to manage Lesotho’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ms Matlanyane literally choked on the PAC questions as she had come to the hearing unprepared.

She and the other officials had on Monday morning refused to appear before the PAC to shed light on the alleged misuse of funds by the National Covid-19 Secretariat (NACOSEC) in 2020.

This then forced the ‘Machabana Lemphane-Letsie-led PAC to seek the assistance of the police to bring the said officers before the committee at Parliament Building, in the afternoon.

The majority of the officials were from the Disaster Management Authority (DMA) and Prime Minister’s office, and were called to respond to queries raised in the Auditor-General’s report on Covid-19-related expenditure and management of funds.

Ms Lemphane-Letsie asked Ms Matlanyane to comment on the queries in the auditor-general’s report for the year ended 31 March 2020.

However, the unprepared Ms Matlanyane failed to answer and kept going in circles, first claiming she had read the report, and then saying she only scanned it,  before finally admitting she had not gone through it at all.

The committee’s main concern was an observation made by the auditor-general about the establishment of the National Emergency Command Centre (NECC) which later transitioned to NACOSEC.

According to the report, NACOSEC was established to provide professional support in respect of the national Covid-19 pandemic response. However, the audit noted some irregularities regarding the appointment of staff at the secretariat.

“Staff deployment at NACOSEC was not done in consultation with the Public Service Commission as required by Legal Notice 61 of 2020 (2). Rather, appointments were done by NACOSEC.

“Contracts of employment for NACOSEC staff, their salaries and other benefits, were paid outside the public service, yet appointments were made during a national crisis for which the Public Service Act gives the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office the powers to utilise resources and human capital that are within reach from all sectors of government.

“Some of the human resources  and expertise deployed by NACOSEC resembled those that already exist within the DMA or other ministries. These include finance, procurement, legal and other support staff, which NACOSEC was engaging at an additional cost,” the report noted.

Asked about his employment by NACOSEC, the  organisation’s former Head of Human Resources (HR), Reatile Elias, told the committee he was headhunted because he was an expert in his field.

“Headhunting is a tool that is used in HR and my role was to provide advice on recruitments. I did my part because when recruiting, you use applicable strategies. Most of the work was coordinated whereby NACOSEC worked with other government entities by asking them to deploy people with expertise to NACOSEC,” Mr Elias said.

Ms Lemphane-Letsie further asked him whether his competency was aligned with ending the pandemic and how much he was being paid for the job.

In response, Mr Elias said: “The salary structure was proposed to the Covid-19 taskforce team after benchmarking was conducted and that structure was approved. I was earning M90 000 per month from July 2020 to December 2020.”

The chairperson also said there was no documentation to support the need to establish NECC/NACOSEC.

“Therefore, we ought to conclude that it was established illegally. Up to now, no corrective measures have been taken on the concerns raised by the Auditor-General,” Ms Lemphane-Letsie said.

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