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M6billion up in smoke

Business

…Audit Report reveals gov’t Covid-19 response rot once again

Mohloai Mpesi

The 2020-2021 Auditor General report has unearthed procurement decay in the government after revealing a whopping M6billion could not be explained.

Acting Auditor General Monica Besetsa’s report on the consolidated statements of the government of Lesotho for the year ended March 31, 2021 divulged that the government could not account for money amounting to M6, 157Billion out of its 383 bank accounts.

The report that was tabled yesterday at the National Assembly revealed that among others, the vague National Emergency Command Centre (NECC) that was staged at the inception of the Covid-19 pandemic, took a large chunk out of the government’s purse.

According to her report, the centre was nothing but a haven of white-collar criminals to procure unwarranted money for lunch and dinner.

“The consolidated statement of cash receipts and payments shows that the government had cash balance of M11.620 billion as at March 31, 2021. However, note 15 to the financial statements reflects M5.463 billion held in 383 accounts at various banks resulting in an unexplained shortfall of M6.157 billion,” she said.

She went further to indicate that according to note 15 to the consolidated financial statements, there were 363 bank accounts totalling M5.463 billion as at March 31, 2021. On March 31, 2020, there were 374 accounts amounting to M5.311 billion and therefore there was an increase of nine accounts to the tune of M152 million.

She noted that although an element of improvement on the maintenance of register for bank accounts was observed, she still could not put her reliance on it as the number of accounts per bank confirmations was 383, whereas the register reflected 366.

“There were instances where some bank accounts were reflected in the register but not in their bank confirmations and vice versa. In addition, one bank has provided inconsistent information in terms of confirmation of balances and closed accounts. Therefore, I could not confirm number of bank accounts and the balances there,” she said.

She disclosed that an expenditure totalling to M22, 443, 781 which was incurred for provision of lunch meals for officers on duty at Convention Centre was discovered since the pandemic outbreak.

Command Centre was staged under the declaration of State of Emergency on Covid-19 by the former Prime Minister Motsoahae Thomas Thabane in terms of Section 8 of Disaster Management Act 1997 on the bid to contain the virus and the view to protect the nation, support the economy and strengthen the health care system to cope with the pandemic.

The pact was marshalled by the former Minister of Communications, Science and Technology Thesele Masiribane who now serves as Ambassador of Lesotho to Italy.    

Besetsa indicated that hefty monies were milked from the government coffers to pay for meals of inter alia; the National Security Services (NSS), Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS), Lesotho Defence Force (LDF), Cabinet staff who were at their duty stations.

“I could not establish the activities that were done differently during Covid-19 pandemic while under normal circumstances the officers in their duty stations provide for own lunches.

“It was further noted that a total amount of M16, 249, 749 was spent on dry rations and lunch for LMPS and LDF officers while on Covid-19 operations. I also failed to understand the reason this expenditure was incurred on security officials, as there are dedicated expenditure votes for meals in their respective ministries when they perform the same core business of security function in the country.

She said at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, the NECC determined a standard price of M100 per meal to be used by all caterers for charging meals for lunch and dinner.

She continued that some caterers charged meal prices ranging from M150 to M200 per meal in excess of set price of M100 agreed upon with NECC. The amount due to four suppliers totalling M279 500 but the invoiced amount was M416 000 resulting into overpayment of M136 500.

“33 suppliers, selected and awarded contracts under limited competitive tendering for each supplier 14,000 fortified for drinks 14,000 biscuits and 7 000 Phuzamandla for LDF members while on Covid-19 operations.

“The audit noted that the prices for same commodities were extremely different to the extent that one supplier charged a total amount of M326 900; another M456 400 and the third one charged M658 000 for the same item. The national Covid-19 Secretariat occupied estimated area of 5.160 square metres, which were 60 rooms at Avani Maseru Hotel from July to October 2020 at the rate of M72.61 per square metre resulting into a monthly obligation of M374 670. A payment of M1 184 441 was made in February 2021.

“Had the Minister sought alternative accommodation as required by law, government would not have incurred such expenditure. The expenditure dedicated to Covid-19 related activities was incurred on issues not associated with Covid-19.

The report further reveals corruption rot in regard to ambiguous tendering processes which resultantly ended with the selected companies overpaid.

“Such issues included a total expenditure of M5 173 465 incurred at the Prime Minister’s office for cleaning services. The amounts of M5 058 590 and M114 875 were paid to Mathabo Trading and MST respectively.

“…Landscaping at the Convention Centre by Mpita Landscaping and cleaning services for five months at the cost of M259 200, settlement of government hospitals debt to the tune of M205 268 incurred prior to Covid-19 pandemic with Afrox Limited from November 2016 to March 2020,” she said.

She said the procurement unit in the Ministry of Health requested quotations for the supply and delivery of Covid-19 supplies. The requests to quote stipulated the mandatory requirements for the companies to qualify for the supply of goods and services and among the selection criteria was the experience of the company.

“In principle, where experience is one of the selection criteria, the unit must do a two-stage evaluation where companies are first evaluated on experience and only those that have the appropriate or needed experience will be considered for financial evaluation.

“Scrutiny of requests revealed the evaluation did not include the experience of the company as one of the evaluation criteria and there was no technical evaluation, which could have considered the experience of the company. The valuations costs were based on the price only. Their request for quotations required that both technical and financial proposals be submitted in one envelope instead of two separate envelopes. Therefore, tenders totalling M67 754 446 were irregularly approved by the tender panel,” she said.

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