Friday, December 3, 2021

Auditor General slams Covid-19 careless spending

It is not often that payment for services rendered is considered a loss to one’s employer but such has been the case for one Presidential Covid-19 Task Force Public Relations Officer (name withheld).

According to the latest Auditor General’s report on management of the Relief Fund, the communications officer should not have received even a thebe of the P165 600.00 paid to him for services rendered over a period of three months.

The scathing report details gross mismanagement of the Covid-19 relief fund by especially ministries of Health, and Presidential Affairs.

A majority of members of the Presidential Task Force were appointed from outside the public service. Some, including the Public Relations Officer (PRO) in question, were seconded from state owned enterprises. While the rest of those seconded were on full remuneration for the period they worked with the Task Force, the PRO’s allowance was stopped after just three months following a letter from their employer.

“It was observed that there were two Presidential Task Force support team members where one was appointed on gratis basis as his employer’s “in kind” support of the government’s effort to deal with the national crisis, and therefore was not expected to be paid any allowance by the government,” the report says.  “However, it was noted that this member was paid a total of P165 600.00 for services rendered from 1 May 2020 to 31 July 2020, a practice that was against his employer’s policy as per the Permanent Secretary to the President letter dated 29 July 2020.” While the PRO would not comment on the matter, Sunday Standard is in possession of a letter he wrote to the Auditor General indicating the report is incorrect.

“The Report contains an allegation that one of the COVID-19 Task Team members unduly earned fees from the COVID-19 Task Force. While my name has not been specifically mentioned, including in the press reports, I am aware that it refers to my situation. This position is incorrect and to the contrary, I am owed fees for professional services to the COVID-19 Task Force as is explained below,” the PRO says in the letter. He says the letter from his employer consenting to his providing services to the Task Force makes no reference to remuneration.

“My employer responded to then Permanent Secretary to the President Mr. Elias M. Magosi’s letter dated to 27 April 2020 consenting that I assist the COVID 19 Task Force as requested. My employer’s letter to Government did not state that I should not be paid for my services. Had it said so, I am certain that the fee in question would not have been advanced from the outset. My understanding of the letter and discussions surrounding it was, and has always been, that the issue to be cleared up was how I would divide my time between the COVID-19 Task Force Office and my employer’s office because it would simply not have been feasible for me to be stationed fulltime at the former.”

In the letter he says it was only following a controversial newspaper report on the “astronomical” sums earned by the Task Force communications team that his employer wrote a letter calling for the review of his remuneration. 

“The decision by my employer that I should no longer be paid for my services to the COVID-19 Task Team during the first stint with the COVID-19 Task Team was indeed precipitated by the negative media story and communicated to me on 28 July 2020. Suffice to say that I did not share my employer’s reasons for the decision but I deferred to it. Following further discussions between myself and my employer, the above matter was concluded without sanction.” He says it was not until he was requested to renew his contract with the Task Force that his employer wrote to the Task Force asking for his remuneration to be reinstated, which request he says was never fulfilled.

Sunday Standard is reliably informed the Covid-19 Task Force Coordinator Dr. Kereng Masupu was never consulted by the government accounting officers when responding to questions by the Auditor General.

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