By Andrew Magombo – Mana.
Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee has expressed dismay over Ministry of Health’s continued negligence and failure to timely furnish the Auditor General’s office with supporting documents for an audit query of the financial year which ended on June 30, 2019.
Facing the Committee under oath at Parliament on Monday afternoon, Secretary for Health, Dr Charles Mwansambo, admitted the Ministry has had problems with record keeping but was optimistic of positive change that once a new digital system would be implemented.
Among other pertinent issues, the Auditor General report indicated that the Ministry failed to produce records for audit inspection of fuel expenditure worth over K61 million.
In his response, Mwansambo conceded that the Ministry indeed failed to submit the required documentation in time but was quick to mention that they later traced and submitted the records to the Auditor General’s office.
He claimed that receipts were not available because they were in the hands of another audit by a local firm hence making it difficult to furnish the documents to the Auditor General’s office.
The response prompted Kasungu North legislator, Mike Bango to ask the Auditor General, Joseph Nangantani, who was available at the enquiry to explain if they do not give room for extension in case of unavailability of records at the targeted institution.
The Auditor General said his office always communicates in advance before commencement of an audit exercise.
For a big chunk of the meeting, Dr. Mwansambo kept recurring with the same response that documents were traced and later sent for verification without furnishing enough details on why and how they failed to act appropriately in time when the said audit was being carried out.
He gave similar responses when asked to explain how payment vouchers for payments amounting to K25, 608,300.91 as well producing evidence for payment vouchers without support documents for an amount K6, 038,829.00.
This irked the legislators who felt Mwansambo, who has appeared before the committee at least on two occasions, was being coy with his ‘scripted’ responses instead of divulging more details on how the documents went missing at the appropriate time.
Another contentious issue was the Ministry’s failure to liquidate funds for referral medicals cases of patients sent abroad to receive treatment.
According to the report, actual relevant documents were not submitted for the audit. Instead, some documents which were produced only had summarized expenditure.
Mwansambo said the National Audit Office should make arrangements to travel with the Ministry’s auditors to visit South Africa and India where they send referral medical cases because they already made payments.
The response did not impress the committee arguing that it was illogical that the Ministry cannot have other supporting documents to consolidate the expenditure of over half a billion kwacha.
It is alleged that store items worth over K128 million were not recorded in the stores ledger.
The Ministry was blamed for failing to provide financial resources for implementation of several construction projects at various hospitals across the country.
Speaking on the sidelines, Mwansambo said they have taken note of what was overlooked but promised to change things by going digital in record keeping.
He said, “It is not just our Ministry because many MDAs are still keeping paper-based record. In my response I suggested we digitize documentation and the office of the Accountant General is already on top of things.”
Chairperson of the Public Accounts Committee, Shadreck Namalomba, said there was a lot of work to be done in MDAs because laxity and lack of training is bringing a lot of compromise in audit queries.
He expressed dissatisfaction with the responses given by the Ministry officials mostly on the contentious of medical referral cases.
“Using over half a billion without relevant supporting documents raises eye brows. As Public Accounts Committee, we need to see this issue sorted before we close it,” Namalomba said.