Friday, April 13, 2007
By KASUBA MULENGA
SIX accountants in the Ministry of Lands have been suspended for alleged improper use of public funds and missing receipt books worth about K88.7 million. Several other workers at the ministry have been written charge letters to exculpate themselves failure to which they would also be suspended. Ministry of Lands permanent secretary, Bernard Namachila, said in an interview in Lusaka yesterday that he had decided to suspend the accountants and reprimand others in line with Government’s crusade to clean up the rot in the ministry.
“I have suspended a number of officers in various offices. I have suspended four at the headquarters, one in Livingstone and one in Ndola. I have also reprimanded several others and I don't mind suspending more,” Mr Namachila said.
He said he had asked the accountant in Kabwe who could not properly account for over K19 million to exculpate himself, failure to which he too would be suspended.
Mr Namachila said the suspension of the officers had resulted in a critical shortage of accounting staff and had since requested Ministry of Finance and National Planning Accountant General, Mike Goma, to provide support staff at the ministry.
He said the shortage of staff was leading to delays in accounting processes like banking, although the situation was being seriously addressed.
And principal accountant, Muketukwa Nalumino, told the Parliamentary Public Accounting Committee (PAC) that when the accountant at the headquarters was asked about the missing receipt books, he said they were given to an officer who had since retired and could not be traced.
“But when we traced the retired officer, he denied having gotten the said books. This is when the accountant again told us that the books were given to a cashier who was very sick and not reporting for work. The cashier also refused. That is when the officer was suspended,” she explained.
And PAC heard that out of the 24 cheques worth K343 million issued to the Ministry of Lands for ground rent in 2003, four were forged. Ms Nalumino revealed that the four banker’s cheques valued at about K34 million and addressed to the Commissioner of Lands were issued by Finance Bank. However, she said they were later discovered to be forged by the Bank of Zambia. Ms Nalumino said the matter had since been reported to the police who were currently investigating.
But PAC chairperson, Charles Milupi, took Ms Nalumino and other senior officers in the ministry to task for having sat on the information until it was raised by Auditor General, Anna Chifungula, in her latest report. “The committee has difficulties in believing what you are telling us because it has taken about three years for you to bring up the matter. There seems to be a casual attitude by the ministry on following up cases of misuse of funds,” Mr Milupi said.
Mr Milupi, who is independent member of Parliament (MP) for Luena, also castigated officers who accompanied Mr Namachila for keeping silent without answering some questions from members of the committee. He said the officers needed to furnish Mr Namachila with proper information because he was still new in the ministry and was still acquainting himself with the operations.
And Ms Chifungula said there was need for the ministry to put in place measures to ensure that there was only one officer who kept receipt books. She suggested that a cashier should be the one to keep receipt books, as he was the person who made payments.