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Home Affairs abuses funds

Orirando Manwere

THE Ministry of Home Affairs, especially the Zimbabwe Republic Police which is constitutionally mandated to investigate crime, ha

s over the years failed to account for public funds allocated to it by Treasury.

A parliamentary portfolio committee report tabled on Wednesday revealed that the ministry incurred unauthorised expenditure of over $66 billion on 45 accounting items, while the abuse of funds by the Immigration Department Fund went unchecked in the absence of clear accounting systems.

Presenting a consolidated report on the ministry’s Appropriation Accounts for the period December 31 2000 to December 31 2004, delayed because of the absence of proper accounting records in ministry departments, Public Accounts Committee chair, Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga, said the situation at Home Affairs was so shocking that her committee wants the accounting officer (Melusi Matshiya) and other officers relieved of their duties.

Misihairabwi-Mushonga expressed concern that this was the 11th report to the House by her committee on various ministries which had not been responded to by ministers.

She said this made a mockery of the oversight role of parliament and wondered whether the executive was serious about addressing problems bedevilling the nation.

Remarks by the leader of the House, Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa during her presentation that Public Accounts Committee reports were always “for 10 years back”, only seemed to confirm the lack of seriousness by the executive to address issues of efficiency and effective running of various arms of government, said Misihairabwi-Mushonga.

She told the House that her committee learnt from the Comptroller and Auditor-General that during the period under review, the Ministry of Home Affairs was qualified (found wanting) in 45 areas.

These comprised budgetary controls, unauthorised expenditure, material scope restrictions, advances and disallowances, temporary deposits, departmental assets, revenue received, revenue written off, outstanding revenue, advances on travel and subsistence, receipts and disbursement, departmental surcharges and public financial assets, among others.

“The ministry incurred unauthorised excess expenditure during the period amounting to $66 608 636 861 on administration and general, Immigration, National Archives and the Zimbabwe Republic Police.

“The accounting officer Mr Melusi Matshiya in evidence before your committee stated that the poor state of financial affairs was due to high staff attrition in the ministry. As a result, the ministry’s accounts were lagging behind by six years, a situation which was unpalatable for audit purposes,” Misihairabwi-Mushonga said.

She pointed out that although these accounts had since been submitted, the committee noted that the accounting officer had overlooked the chronological order of some of the disbursements which he considered immaterial at the time of the submission and some of the information could not be found owing to the time lapse.

She told the House that it was surprising how the ministry overspent when it was experiencing a high turnover.

She said the Comptroller and Auditor-General told her committee that she (the comptroller) was unable to express an opinion on the aspects of public accountability due to the ministry’s failure to provide specific returns and statements required for her audit.

Misihairabwi-Mushonga said her committee was extremely concerned that owing to lack of vehicles, the Immigration Department at Sango, Chirundu and Pandamatenga was unable to timeously bank revenue collected.

“They receive quite a lot of revenue in foreign currency and they have to go and bank the money in Victoria Falls. We are talking about a lot of foreign currency and a lot of logistical problems, stress and that requires serious skills to process. Your committee feels that the situation is tempting and it may just be a matter of time before such funds are misappropriated. Surely this is a critical area which government must invest in to ensure that all the foreign currency is accounted for,” she said.

All departments under the ministry failed to submit appropriate returns and were subsequently qualified on various aspects, including Criminal Investigation Department exhibits, special constabulary pay, receipts and disbursements (ZRP), advances miscellaneous, losses and damage to state property, revenue received, gifts, legacies and donations, public financial assets and treasury orders.

“There is gross abuse of public assets and funds. For example, that is why we find police vehicles carrying firewood while stations have no vehicle to attend scenes of crime. Revenue collected from fines for example cannot be accounted for. It’s a sad situation,” lamented Misihairabwi-Mushonga.

She said it was difficult to trace funds for individual departments because they all deposited funds into one ministry account with the central bank and departments started new financial years with no outstanding balances.

On advances, the committee noted that the ministry had flouted financial regulations with impunity.

Despite claims that the ministry had no advance block grant for more than two years, it took some money from the Immigration Fund without authority to pay temporary officers.

Upon being asked why this was done, a ministry official said: “The problem is, since we do not have money, we cannot stop operations so we will advise the Treasury on the issue.”

The committee reports also noted that the introduction of the electronic Public Finance Management system was rendered ineffective as officers were not well trained and resorted to the manual system, especially in the ZRP.

The committee recommended the urgent need for the ministry to decentralise and strengthen its department’s accounts and internal audit sections, recruit qualified staff and regularise the ministry’s expenditure through a Financial Adjustments Act.

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