via Justice ministry under fire over missing funds | The Source March 31, 2014
The justice ministry on Monday came under criticism from Members of Parliament for failing to produce accounts for three years and its inability to detect fraud, resulting in the state being prejudiced of nearly a million dollars by employees.
Permanent secretary, Virginia Mabhiza told the public accounts committee that they experienced break downs through the public finance management system introduced in 2009 resulting in backlogs and distortion of figures.
This was part of the Auditor General’s office report which pointed out that $743,000 could not be accounted for.
“This system collapsed most of the times, thereby causing differences in the figures that we were to rely on,” he said.
Mabhiza said reconciliation was now being done on a monthly basis but failed to tell MPs why these had not yet been submitted to the Auditor General’s office.
Mabhiza said she had suspended the chief accountant and brought in new staff.
She said the ministry was affected by high staff turnover and government’s job freeze and only had about half the staff it requires.
MPs also quizzed Mabhiza over another $71,000 which could also not be accounted for.
The committee’s chairperson, Willias Madzimure who is also the legislator for Kambuzuma accused Mabhiza of failing to exercise her oversight role.
“If there is no clear explanation, it shows that the money was misappropriated,” he said.
He also wanted to know what action had been taken against ministry officials that had misappropriated the funds.
“I am still investigating and I have since suspended the chief accountant,” said Mabhiza.
MPs also raised the issue of three employees of the ministry that fraudulently claimed $5,500 in per diems.
Mabhiza said disciplinary action had been taken against the employees but could not prove it before Parliament.
“We sought to recover the amount and so far we have recovered $2,700,” she said, adding that the balance would be deducted from their salaries in instalments of $25 per month.
This infuriated MPs who accused Mabhiza of not taking appropriate disciplinary action against the staffers, pointing out that it would take government on average seven years to recover the money.
“Is there no justification for prosecuting them criminally?” asked Bulawayo South legislator, Eddie Cross.
“Our conclusion is that nothing was done. There was a clear intention to defraud the ministry,” said Madzimure.
The permanent secretary was also quizzed over airtime allowances worth $136,000 which could not be accounted for.
Mabhiza said she since instructed their mobile service provider to cap phone usages with directors monthly limit being $100, deputy $50 and ministers’ drivers at $25.
The committee also quizzed Mabhiza over abuse of government property after 55 vehicles belonging to the Prisons and Correctional Services went for a year without log books.
“During that period we experienced financial constraints and could not obtain stationery, including log books,” she said.
MPs accused Mabhiza of misleading the state auditor that only two vehicles had no log books yet there were 55.
The ministry also failed to account for $469,000 in per diems as senior officers were failing to account for the money they received for trips.