Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) says it feels betrayed by Treasury’s apparent lack of enthusiasm to act on officers accused of misappropriating public resources in the financial years 2008/09 and 2009/10.
PAC’s frustration comes against a background of Treasury’s failure to discipline some public officers as per the committee’s recommendation for failing to account for public funds in district councils they were serving as district commissioners (DCs).
The committee said in 2015 it recommended to Treasury and the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) to act on the officers for allegedly failing to account for the money during the financial years 2008/09 and 2009/10.
But in an interview yesterday, Ministry of Finance, Economic Planning and Development spokesperson Davis Sado said it was not correct to suggest that Treasury was sweeping the issue under the carpet. He said the issue was being handled following existing laws governing management of public finances.
Said Sado: “The Public Finance Management Act is clear on how to handle such issues. So, when recommendations are made, we work with the respective controlling officers of the institutions to make sure those recommendations are followed following proper administrative regulations.”
PAC had alleged that despite its advice to have the DCs disciplined and reimburse the alleged misused money, Treasury and OPC were yet to take action.
PAC deputy chairperson Kamlepo Kalua described the situation as “sad and surprising”.
He said: “It’s quite a sad development. The country continues losing billions of public money through such means. We even met the Chief Secretary [to the Government] in Salima and still no action.
“But, as PAC, the spirit is still high and we will ensure they are all brought to book. Otherwise, if authorities are unwilling to act on recommendations by the committees, which are governance institutions, then our oversight roles are undermined and frustrated, they have legal attachment.”
Kalua, who is also Rumphi East member of Parliament (MP), said the committee is set to meet next month and the issue will be revived because “the whole effort to fight public funds mismanagement is being frustrated”.
Previously, PAC had written the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) to probe some district councils over allegations of fraud and suspected corruption.
Under Section 88 (2) of the Public Finance Management Act of 2003, it is an offence for a public officer to engage in poor record keeping pertaining to finances and risk a five-year prison term and a fine.
But Sado said the process to discipline errant public officers is a long one because each case was being handled based on the nature of the funds suspected to have been mishandled.
He said: “It can’t be a cross-cutting penalty. We look at issues differently. But all in all, we work with the controlling officers to make sure all proper procedures are followed.”
Sado said Treasury met PAC to present practical ways of handling such matters and the issue of power limitations for the secretary to the Treasury.
He said: “The secretary to the Treasury can invoke, to a certain extent, but the powers are limited. But we are following proper procedures as stipulated in the Public Finance Management Act.”
Section 87 (2) of the Public Finance Management Act provides that where a controlling officer or chief executive authorises expenditure or commitment of funds in excess of approved limit or commits or expends funds where there is no appropriation permitting such… the appointing authority may suspend without pay such an officer.
Most of the DCs suspected of mismanaging the funds are still in the public service with some promoted to higher grades.