Saturday, April 4, 2020

Breaking the hearts of permanent secretaries

The relationship between Auditor General Pelonomi Namogang and his former civil servant colleagues has grown irreversibly tempestuous.

His former friends and close colleagues with whom he rose up the ranks during his days as a civil servant have since deserted him.

And he makes no effort to hide the strain.
He also does not apologise.

“I do not have friends at the government enclave anymore. Our relationship can best be summed as cordial but it has been steadily deteriorating,” he says as a matter of fact.

The souring relationship is a result of his pointed criticisms of the public service, especially permanent secretaries who are, by law, supposed to be accounting officers, but who, as shown over the years, do little to abide by the finance regulations as expected of them.

Since his appointment as Auditor General three years ago, the soft spoken Namogang has been causing stirs and breaking hearts at the government enclave with his biting annual reports that dissect and publicise glaring and often embarrassing accountability deficiencies at the highest echelons of the public service.

His primary role is to detect any traces of abuse in government, catalogue and come up with recommendations so that the problems do not recur.

His latest report is due in a week’s time and already senior civil servants are holding their baited breaths, well aware that as in all his previous reports they are likely to emerge with broken noses.

For someone who has been a source of problems and embarrassment to revered personalities as permanent secretaries in government, one senses traces of frustration in his voice.

“There is currently no legislation forcing permanent secretaries to implement our recommendations,” he says.

These recommendations include pinning down Permanent Secretaries so much so that their ministries do not repeat accounting mistakes as uncovered on a yearly basis.

Namogang says “the usual queries” are contained in the coming report but adds quickly that on a general scale, there has been a discernible improvement on the part of government departments and ministries, thanks to the implementation of service level agreement.
He says he is pushing for a total autonomy of the Auditor General, and, as such, behind the scenes moves are in place to amend the Finance and Audit Act.

An agreement has also been struck in government to get permanent secretaries sign biding agreements on what is expected of them.
“Finance regulations are there, but they are largely disregarded.”

He singles out the local authorities, where he says even the most elementary accounting and governance principles are flouted, with conflict of interest on the runaway as councilors sit on tender boards even if it is an open secret that their companies and those of their friends are suppliers, an arrangement he calls a “deviation.”

“There is a lot of abuse. Supplies officers have befriended most of the suppliers. There is absolutely no compliance.”

While the problem of retiring imprest by civil service has gone down, the Auditor General has detected collusion between the officials at the salaries department with those who take monthly advances.

The result is that the system is beaten as government does not recover all the money due to it in time.

“I must point out advances are to be recovered monthly until the last thebe. But sometimes there is collusion with the salaries officials to withhold the deductions which is in fact criminal,” says Namogang.

One other government department which has terrible service levels as to attract the Auditor General’s particular scorn is the Central Transport Organisation.

The rot stems out of a failure by CTO officers to realize that the ultimate responsibility for government fleet rests with them.

The audit has uncovered a culture where the buck was passed to other departments and ministries, an arrangement that has in some cases resulted with government losing its vehicles as some of the private garages that do regular repairs go belly up.
Technical departments, especially that of Building and Engineering Services have also not lived up to expectation.

They are likely to come out bruised from the report.
The Auditor General says bearing in mind the importance of these departments to the entire government service delivery, such departments have to be singled out for particular monitoring and close scrutiny.

He does not mince his words when speaking of how too many permanent secretaries do not take their jobs as accounting officers seriously.

“It’s only when they sense they are due to appear before the Public Accounts Committee that some of them hurriedly try to scrutinize their accounts,” says the Auditor General.

His biggest discovery is that permanent secretaries in many of the government ministries have abdicated their powers, mandate and authority, by delegating their key functions to their juniors.
“We are introducing reforms to expose and deal with culprits,” he says.

A career civil servant, Namogang was appointed Auditor General just over three years ago. Before then, he had served for a stint as Accountant General.

Not in so many words, the Auditor General points out that there is deep seated culture of abuse in both the central and local government.

He thinks it is high time the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament sits in public.