‘Punish incompetent accounting officers’

MASERU — MPs want principal secretaries and chief accounting officers that approved supplementary estimates for the 2006/2007 fiscal year without following proper procedure to appear before parliament.

The MPs want senior civil servants to explain why they had disregarded the government procedures.

The lawmakers made the call during the debate on the Public Accounts Committee (PAC)’s report on the auditor general’s report for the 2006/2007 fiscal year.

The committee tabled the report on May 20.

PAC chairman Moeketse Malebo, who is also the leader of the Marematlou Freedom Party (MFP), told parliament that the portfolio committee had established that Chief Accounting Officers (CAOs) of several government departments had not provided “tangible reasons for their requests of excess estimates to be approved”.

“This is a very sensitive part. In cases like this, money is not easily granted as there have to be compelling reasons, which prove beyond a shadow of doubt the need for supplementary estimates to be approved,” Malebo said.

According to the PAC report several ministries had their supplementary estimates approved despite absence of evidence indicating that there were “requests to that effect” during the 2006/2007 financial year.

Before a request for a supplementary budget is made a department’s CAO should first source for funds from the initial budget approved by parliament to make provision for emergencies.

“It’s only if the CAO has failed to source the money and has proof supporting the request that a supplementary budget can be approved,” Malebo said.

“There is ample proof that supplementary budgets were approved without following proper procedure. We cannot support this. It should come to an end.”

Ministries which overspent on their budget in the 2006/2007 financial year include the Prime Minister’s Office, communications, forestry, foreign affairs, home affairs, defence and national security, as well as tourism.

According to the PAC, the Prime Minister’s Office was allocated M2, 503, 338 for vehicle maintenance but had spent M6, 805, 692, thus incurring an over expenditure of M4, 302, 354.

“The PAC views this excess as irresponsible on the part of the chief accounting officer,” the report says.

In the same year, the same office incurred an excess expenditure of M2, 311, 252 on short-term car hire whereas the allocated budget was only M184, 620.

“The budget was exceeded by 1000 percent. Equally PAC considers that the chief accounting officer has been irresponsible and should be surcharged.

As if that was not enough, the same office was given M1, 106, 780 but ended up spending M3, 808, 969 more than it was allocated by parliament on fuel and lubricants.

“It spent M4, 915, 749 which is an over expenditure of 344 percent. PAC considers the excess expenditure as deserving of surcharge,” the report adds.

The ministry of defence and national security appears in the report as having an unauthorised expenditure of unnamed items to the tune of M3, 376, 735 while forestry spent M617, 451.

“A look at the budgetary performance of the forestry ministry on recurrent expenditure revealed on 31st March 2007, the ministry had exceeded their total budget of M617, 451,” the report says.

“The chief accounting officer had explained the excess as having been caused by conflicting instructions on transfer of staff with their salaries to Local Government. She said that the operation was not run smoothly and caused excess expenditure.”

The report also highlights that the CAO for the communications ministry was in the 2005/2006 financial year given a supplementary budget which culminated in an unauthorised excess expenditure of M759, 089 “with a budget of over M43 million”.

“In the financial year 2006/2007, he asked for and was given by parliament a budget of M47 million and according to him ‘he shifted priorities and failed to carry out some of the budgeted projects,” the PAC report says.

“It is a considered view of the PAC that parliament was misled into approving a budget for the communications ministry for which no honest grounds existed, hence the shift of priorities.” 

Malebo asserted that some requests for supplementary estimates were not made within the relevant financial year, an act which amounted to the violation of the Supplementary Appropriation Act.

The MFP leader added that it was vital for government departments to reconcile financial statements on a monthly basis as a way of providing evidence that the transfer of items from one account to another is necessary.

“There’s proof that CAOs and accountants keep books for 12 months without making efforts to reconcile them. It is in violation of financial laws and regulations,” Malebo said.

PAC has also in its report  called for CAOs who violate financial laws and regulations, to be surcharged in terms of section 32 (1) of Finance Order 1988 and for the surcharge to be raised from M600 to M5000.

“The minister of finance should also be empowered to ensure that persons given the responsibility of chief accounting officer qualify to do so,” the report says.

The report by the PAC was not adopted by the parliament as the MPs argued that the principal secretaries of concerned ministries, their financial controllers and chief accounting officers be called before parliament to explain why they had flouted government regulations.

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