Thursday, July 7, 2022

OP and DIS to be probed for abuse of funds

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has recommended an investigation into how P26 million, which was siphoned off the National Disaster Relief Fund to the Directorate of Intelligence Service, was used saying it has come to the conclusion that, “there must have been some element of abuse of funds”.
According to the PAC report, which was tabled in parliament on Friday, the Accounting Officer from the Office of the President indicated that the National Disaster Relief Fund money, which was diverted to DISS, was used on housing, offices, transport, equipment and training.

“In order to satisfy itself that the funds had been used as alleged, the PAC requested the Accounting Officer to provide documentary evidence in the form of Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Authority, payment vouchers, suppliers’ invoices etc. It was somewhat of a disappointment that the accounting Officer responded to the Committee’s request by stating that she could not provide the Committee with such details due to the sensitivity of matters handled by DIS. The Committee found this explanation unacceptable because they did not see anything sensitive about renting or buying houses and/or offices, purchasing vehicles, and training personnel.”

The report further states that, “The Accounting Officer needs to appreciate that the Committee is mandated to examine Accounting Officers on all funds appropriated to them by Parliament for whatever purposes. Therefore, her failure to account for the expenditure as requested leaves the Committee with no option but to conclude that there must be something which is not right in the way the funds were used.”

During the financial year 2007/08, the Ministry of State President established DIS. There, however was no budgetary provision for the spy outfit, so Isaac Kgosi, who was tasked with setting it up, had to scout for funds elsewhere.

He wrote to then Minister of Defence Justice and Security, Phandu Skelemani, asking for money. In his request he indicated that the Director, Ministry of Finance, had advised that P13 million could be drawn from the National Disaster Relief Fund. On the strength of the recommendation, Skelemani authorized the diversion of P13 million from the Disaster Relief Fund to DIS.

The newly established DIS used up the money in three months. Kgosi wrote to Skelemani again in February 2008 asking for an additional P 3 million from the National Disaster Relief Fund, and authority was granted.

In 2008/09, even though the DIS had a full budget (both recurrent and development), it went on to draw P10 967 531 from the National Disaster Relief Fund to which the Auditor General expressed his concerns as follows: “I have not been able to appreciate why those expenditures, involving substantial amounts of money as they did, were met from the Fund under which no funds had been provided, instead of from the appropriate expenditure vote for the year 2008/2009.

The PAC, on the other hand, states: “While wrong authority was used to spend the funds from the National Disaster Relief Fund for unauthorized purposes in 2007/2008, the committee is at a loss to understand how the Department continued to use the funds in 2008/09. It is not at all clear what circumstances led to the use of the funds, under what authority and for what purpose. The situation is exacerbated by the failure of the Accounting Officer to account for these funds and this leaves the committee with no option but to conclude that there must have been some element of abuse of funds.”

The committee has recommended that “law enforcement agents should conduct further investigations into the usage of the funds from the National Disaster Relief Fund”.

The Permanent Secretary to the President, who is the Accounting Officer responsible for the National Disaster Relief Fund, is being held accountable for the lapses in the system.
Under cross examination by the Public Accounts Committee, the Director, Ministry of Finance, denied ever advising Kgosi that funds as requested for DIS could be availed from the National Disaster Relief Fund.

Minister Skelemani on the other hand stated that, “As is apparent from the records, I as Minister responsible, agreed that certain monies could be used to ensure that DIS, the setting up of which had been established by parliament, was operationalised. My understanding was without my prior concurrence, the necessary authority from Ministry of Finance and Development Planning could not be sought to vire the funds. That is why, being confident that there was in the circumstances then prevailing minimal chance that the funds would be required for disaster, I concurred that the same could be used, naturally subject to obtaining necessary clearance applicable to such funds.”

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