… raises M1billion in first 100 days in office
…uses M460 to pay verifiable service providers
FINANCE Minister Retšelisitsoe Matlanyane says government has managed to trace at least M3.5billion of the M6.1 billion reported as unaccounted for in a July 2022 audit report by former acting auditor-general, Monica Besetsa.
The audit report covered the 2021/22 fiscal period.
Dr Matlanyane made the disclosures at a dialogue to review Prime Minister Sam Matekane government’s first 100 days in office in Maseru this week.
Outlining her ministry’s achievements in its first 100 days in office, Dr Matlanyane said it had inherited empty coffers but managed to raise M1 billion. At least M460 million had been used to pay debts and arrears to verifiable government suppliers.
According to Dr Matlanyane, the government had successfully traced M3.5billion of the M6.1 billion, which she said had been accumulating for years as previous governments ignored audit queries.
“…Of that M6.1billion, which was reported missing, we found that it was cumulative. It had been reported in previous audit reports, but government ignored it. When we were doing some reconciliations, we could only find how M3.5billion of that money was used and there is proof to that,” Dr Matlanyane said.
“What happened is that the money was withdrawn from the different government bank accounts but was not recorded within the government’s books……,” she said while also attributing the lack of proper accounting to corruption in procurement processes. Some money would be released from state bank accounts while not being properly recorded in the government’s books.
“Audit queries were not addressed by previous governments, and we are going to propose that there be laws that force us to respond to audit queries.”
Other challenges included the lack of reconciliations on government accounts. There was no accountability by senior government officials on the money they got for official trips abroad outside the routine per diem allocations.
At his inauguration on 28 October 2022, PM Matekane had boldly declared that his government would establish the whereabouts of the M6.1 billion reported as lost in Ms Besetsa’s 2021/22 report.
Ms Besetsa had stated that former Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro’s All Basotho Convention (ABC)-led government could not account for the whopping M6,1 billion, which she said had been largely deposited as cash in various bank accounts during the 2020/21 financial year.
The government’s financial statements indicated that it had M11, 62 billion in its bank accounts, however bank statements showed that the actual amount was only M5,46 billion. This represented a shortfall of M6, 16 billion, Ms Besetsa had concluded.
Dr Matlanyane said the government was M443 million in arrears on debts to service providers. Her ministry could not pay all of these because “some of the services were procured without following prescribed procurement procedures.
“We have paid M200 million for cumulative arrears but have also discovered that there were arrears amounting to M443 million, for services that were procured without proper documentation. We cannot pay them,” Dr Matlanyane said.
“But the audit continues and if we get the proper documentation, such debts will be paid off. But if we don’t have them (the documents), we will not pay because we believe that everyone doing business with government knows the right procurement procedures to be followed.”
The finance minister again said that recommendations will be made to ministries, to act against civil servants who were involved in bogus dealings that ultimately cost government millions.
She added the 2023/24 budget will only focus on projects for which it was intended. “It will not be used to settle previous years’ debts and arrears….
“We will again go back to the ministries and where action should be taken on civil servants who gave out such (unlawful) tenders, we will demand that action be taken. This budget for 2023/24 will only work for this fiscal year. We will not allow that ministries pay last year’s invoices with this budget,” Dr Matlanyane said.
“If there are some arrears at different government ministries, they should be submitted to the Accountant-General’s office, so that we can try to find ways to pay them. We want to start on a clean slate. And I will be monitoring this budget to the last cent, to make sure that it works only for the intended purposes.”
Dr Matlanyane said she would also devise mechanisms to help ensure proper accountability by ministries including proper implementation of procurement plans and management of accounts. Directors of finance in ministries will be called upon to make monthly reports on how monies have been used.
On her achieved milestones, Dr Matlanyane said when she took office in October 2022, “there was nothing in the government’s purse”. Her ministry had nonetheless managed to raise M1billion in 100 days “which was used to pay off some of the government’s debts”.
“Coffers were empty when we got into office, but we were able in these 100 days to raise close to M1billion as the Ministry of Finance. “We have also managed to pay about M260 million worth of government debts which were already in the system and verified and could not be paid because there was no money,” Dr Matlanyane said.
“We are also in the process of auditing and paying known arrears of about M643 million.”