US$300m in stray payments, missing cars, vanishing spoons, unfinished roads: Inside the Auditor-General’s latest report

Aud-General Mildred Chiri, who has repeatedly pointed to abuse of funds retained by Govt agencies

Auditor-General Mildred Chiri has tabled her 2020 report to Parliament, and it again lays bare the mismanagement of tax dollars by Government.

Payments were made with no paper trail, goods – from cars to teachers’ blankets and cutlery – were paid for but never received, and government officials aren’t listening to what the A-G is recommending on how to fix the repeated accounting problems.

When a government department makes a payment, it must book it properly and keep records. But, says Chiri, those handling public money aren’t doing this enough. This, she warns, is increasing the risk for fraud.

Below, we detail some key findings from Chiri’s latest report.

Government likes to spend, without doing the paperwork

In 2020, Treasury recorded foreign direct payments worth US$300 599 941 behalf of 16 Ministries, but there was no reconciliation with the departments.

“However, I noted that a number of Ministries were not aware of these payments and did not acknowledge these transactions. As at November 15, 2021, five line Ministries disputed Treasury disbursements from Direct Payments totaling US$183 638 970,” the report says.

Chiri breaks down some of the direct payments made without the necessary paperwork.

Payments worth US$20.7 million were made to suppliers on behalf of the Ministry of Finance in 2020, but not uploaded in the Public Financial Management System. This means that while there are records of the payments, they were not accounted for in the Ministry’s Appropriation Account for the year 2020 as is required.

Treasury also made payments of US$18.2 million on behalf of the Ministry of Agriculture. The payments were for “policy and administration” as well as “agricultural engineering and farm infrastructure advisory development”. Another BWP8.3 million was paid to Botswana for “animal production, health, extension and services”.

But the Ministry of Agriculture itself did not record these payments.

Said the A-G: “Due to non-availability of the requested information regarding the above-mentioned transactions, I was unable to vouch and authenticate the amounts.”

Because these payments were not uploaded to the respective Ministries’ votes in the Public Financial Management System (PFMS), it means that Government’s total expenditure was higher than stated by Treasury for the 2020 national budget. Government spent more than it declared to taxpayers.

Government has been paying for goods, but not receiving them

In 2020, three Ministries paid for cars worth Z$117 042 902. By September 2021, the cars had not been delivered.

The Ministry of Information paid for seven cars from Solution Motors and 17 from Motor City. The Ministry told auditors that “delivery of motor vehicles was delayed due to some technical challenges faced by the suppliers”.

The Ministries of Housing and Justice bought three cars apiece, all six were not delivered. The Ministry of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation had also not received two cars they paid for in 2017, a matter already raised in the 2019 audit report, but ignored.

The Tourism Ministry paid for 13 laptops, 13 Samsung Galaxy tablets and 50 school desks in 2020. None of these were delivered.

At the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, government ordered 260 blankets and kitchen utensils for teachers’ hostels. It also ordered tables and chairs. The blankets never came, and the furniture delivered was not the type paid for. Auditors found that the office tables were smaller than the type that the Ministry had ordered.

The Ministry told the auditors that one of the suppliers, Michmart Investments, said it delivered the wrong furniture because “he indicated that prices had gone up and (supplier) had the intention to request for price variation, which they did not do.”

Governance issues the biggest problem in A-G report

Dead-end road projects

Government has made roadworks one of the centerpieces of its infrastructure programme, but it is failing to fund them properly. The government is taking on many projects, but not completing them, the A-G found.  

In 2020, Ministry of Transport planned for 37 road development projects. This included repair of roads damaged by Cyclone Idai and other roadworks.

But 15 of those projects were not put on the budget properly, resulting in Z$9.7 billion from the unallocated reserve from an initial budget of Z$2 billion. There were 13 other unbudgeted for road projects, which cost Z$185 million.

According to the A-G, these irregular payments “may result in having a number of projects partly done if the few resources are spread on too many projects at one go”.

Out of money, the Ministry of Transport asked for more funding from Treasury to complete 15 suspended projects. Treasury approved another Z$936 million for these 15 projects in September 2020, but only five of them were completed by the end of the year.

“The reasons sighted for the delay in the completion of the projects included late release of cash by Treasury, bureaucracy in the procurement process, and inefficiencies by some contractors,” the audit finds.

Audits are being ignored

Most government departments are ignoring the Auditor-General’s recommendations.

Out of the 161 audit findings that were raised in the previous year, 44 (28%) were fully addressed, 28 (17%) were partly addressed and 89 (55%) were not addressed.

Like other sectors, Chiri says the A-G’s office is suffering from a skills shortage. She said: “I lost qualified and experienced staff due to uncompetitive conditions of service.”