By ‘Majirata Latela
The Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee has fired a broadside at public servants and government ministries that fail or flatly refuse to appear before the committee to account for the spending of public funds entrusted to them.
The PAC is a sessional Committee of the Parliament of Lesotho which may be established under Standing Order No.97(5) which shows that the committee shall consider the financial statements and accounts of all government ministries and departments, executive organs of state, courts, authorities and commissions established by the Constitution and of each one of the two Houses of Parliament; any audits reports issued on financial statements, accounts or reports referred to the Committee by the House, the Speaker or these Standing Orders.
The Public Accounts Committee which started its sittings two weeks back has had to contend with ministries that evaded appearing before it, claiming they were not properly prepared to make presentations.
Some ministries have pleaded with the PAC to let them go back to prepare themselves as they were not ready, while the principal secretary of ministry of communications has already been issued an official summons by the PAC after failing to show up.
While at it, the PAC has last week received a court order that members of the ministry of finance cannot be able to appear before the court because they already have a case filed against them in court, which is similar to what they have been called to explain before the PAC.
Speaking to theReporter, PAC chairman, Teboho Sekata lamented that court orders issued against the PAC make it difficult for the committee to complete its work of interrogating ministries and parastatals as they spend a lot of time attending court proceedings.
He added that the other issue that takes too much of their time is ministries that come before the PAC not prepared enough and give excuses why they cannot be interrogated.
“The excuses that the ministries give waste our time and we struggle to finish the report within time frames that we have set for ourselves; we spend more time dealing with only one ministry as they will be coming back and forth.
“Ministries come here unprepared even when they know exactly what they need to prepare before coming before the committee. We don’t just call ministries, we give them a schedule of when they will be called before the PAC, but some of the ministries decide to come unprepared.
“With some ministries it is pure nonchalance that they come unprepared because they know we cannot proceed without them explaining what happened with the public funds they were allocated to them,” Sekata said.
Sekata added that the ministry of communications has been summonsed in line with Standing Order number 89 of the Parliament of Lesotho which is evoked if a ministry does not act in accordance with the rules and regulations of the PAC. He said they could not tolerate the behaviour of the PS, of failing to appear before the committee without a plausible explanation.
“The PS as the chief accounting officer is the one who has to lead the ministry and in his absence the officers cannot answer on his behalf. Now the PS will have to respond to our questions alone because he has denied himself from the right of being helped by his officials. He will have to take all the questions alone because he failed to respect us,” Sekata charged.
He decried the fact that ministries come before the committee unprepared as, in just a short space of time, they have had to return two ministries which they ordered to go back and prepare sufficiently. He said this was a message to other ministries to make sure that they prepare in time so that they do not repeat the same mistakes.
Insisting on ministries going back to prepare their presentations, he said, is prompted by the fact having caught wind of the fact that there may have been a misappropriation of public funds. He insisted the ministries will not get off scot-free.
He warned that, even if the ministries in question are trying to buy time by coming unprepared, they will still have to account at the end of the day, so that they do not keep on making the same mistake.
Sekata further reminded government ministries that they still have to report to the PAC on their progress in implementing the parliamentary resolutions from the past reports.
“They need to give us a report of what happened to the resolutions that they were given to implement. PAC recommendations become mandatory resolutions once they have been adopted by parliament. The ministry of finance, for example, has been repeatedly returned because it had not implemented such resolutions for a decade now. The two recent resolutions emanated from the report or the Consolidated Financial Statements of the Government of Lesotho for the years 2013-2016 and other incidental findings.
“The committee has noted with concern the ‘adverse opinion’ of the Auditor General on the financial statements since 2010. The Committee recommends that the Deputy Prime Minister as the Chair of the Budget Committee must coordinate all ministers, prepare a work plan such that no adverse opinion by the Auditor- General recurs in the next financial years. Such a comprehensive plan must be presented before Parliament within 90 days.
“The committee has noted with concern poor internal controls systems within the ministries. The committee therefore recommends that the minister of finance must prepare a clear summarized report on the timelines given to each ministry to conduct internal audits and report to Parliament within 30 days,” he said.
The ministry of finance, Sekata said, needs to give them a clear explanation as to why they are unable to implement the two resolutions, as they do not want them repeating the same mistakes and thinking they can get away just like that.
The Master of the High Court has previously filed a court case which served as an order to interdict the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) from summoning them to appear before it.
They filed the court papers seeking to interdict the PAC from further interrogating them on the allegations tabled against them. They wanted a final order to have the PAC barred from ever investigating the issues relating to the administration of the deceased’s estates.
They argued that the forum in which they were called to respond to the allegations levelled against them was not a proper one and they said they would suffer “irreparable harm” should the PAC be allowed to continue investigating.