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MBABANE – Despite making a commitment to make the fight against corruption a priority, government seemingly does not do much in as far as taking to task those found to have misused public funds.

This is evident in the fact that while the outgoing Public Accounts Committee (PAC) helped government recover over E200 million, however, nothing has been done in terms of prosecuting those found to have had a hand in the irregularities discovered by the Office of the Auditor General (AG). As per the provisions of the law, the PAC serves as a check on the government especially with respect to its expenditure bill and its primary function is to examine the audit report of the AG.

people’s will

It supports the work of Parliament which is regarded as the country’s central institution, in its capacity as the primary expression of the people’s will and, therefore, has a paramount responsibility for combating corruption in all its forms, especially in public life but increasingly also in the economy at large. Highlights of the performance of the PAC in the past five years reflect that it recovered a sum of E234 080 562.99. The amount includes overpayment made to suppliers, irregular payments to companies, salary overpayments and misappropriation of government funds, among others. The PAC conducted investigations internationally in countries such as Mozambique, South Africa and Kenya and this resulted in the recovery of E17 million.

significant job

Another significant job done by the PAC is that it interrogated over 70 head teachers for not using funds for then intended purposes. This was followed by hearings which led to the dismissal of four head teachers, while others were arrested with some currently on suspension pending the outcome of their hearings. Another significant work of the PAC is that due to some recommendations it made, government enacted and amended several legislations and policies in order to safeguard public funds.

rates collected

Also significant with the then outgoing PAC, is that for the first time, town councils appeared before it to account for the use of rates collected from ratepayers, while parastatals were made to provide answers for irregularities discovered in the use of subventions received from government.

received an award

The work of the outgoing PAC was recognised as it received an award from its peers in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) during an event held in Botswana in 2022.
Then outgoing PAC Chairperson, Gege Member of Parliament (MP) Musa Kunene was elected as the Treasurer of the African Organisation of PACs (AFROPAC). However, despite all the good work by the PAC, government has not played its role of ensuring that implicated individuals were prosecuted. In an interview with the outgoing PAC Chairperson, he lamented the fact that no one has been taken to task despite that the committee did make recommendations. He explained that it was difficult to guarantee prosecution for implicated government officials, as there was no proper legislation to fast track the process. “I have said it countless times that government, through the Office of the Prime Minister, must push for the enactment of a law that will give powers to the PAC to fast track the prosecution of people,” he said.

Kunene said what was also a challenge was the whole procedure of handling issues of misuse of public funds, as it involved working together with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), which might at times become cumbersome. “It is a challenge because the matters first have to go to the DPP’s Office yet the AG has done all the investigation in the government departments and discovered that there were irregularities. In other countries, unit such as the PAC has all the powers,” Kunene said.

financial bail-out

The last PAC Report was presented in Parliament in December last year and the committee made it known that it had noted that a high number of public enterprises or parastatals were falling apart and needed a government-funded financial bail-out due to irregularities. The committee said making the situation worse was that the anomalies occurred over a number of years, but the Public Enterprise Unit (PEU), which was legally entrusted with the responsibility of monitoring public enterprises, failed to execute its mandate. As a result, then PAC said, chief executive officers (CEOs) and boards of parastatals did as they pleased, sometimes even defying Parliament. Resolutions and approved irregular expenditures while most of them worked without contracts.

Furthermore, the PAC said it discovered that some CEOs and Boards defied the controlling officers principal secretaries (PSs) of their ministries. The Boards, the PAC discovered, defied the controlling officers of the various ministries. Also, the PAC decried that then Boards failed to monitor the performance of CEOs and allowed employees to resign while owing the institutions while parastatals failed to submit audited financial statements while some submitted fraudulent statements. The committee recommended that answers should be provided by the PEU on why these anomalies had been allowed to occur.

heads rolling

One parastatal which the PAC had recommended should have heads rolling was the National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA). This PAC had said that the NDMA Board had acted against the procedures of the Public Finance Management Act, 2017, after it defied a House Resolution emanating from a recommendation taken in November 2021. The recommendation had come after it was resolved that the Board should suspend a senior officer and institute a forensic audit on the operations of the agency after some anomalies were noted. The Board defied the resolution and instead pushed for the renewal of the senior officer’s contract despite the glaring anomalies which were subsequently exposed by the AG. Worth noting is that when the current government assumed office, the then Prime Minister, now late, Ambrose Mandvulo Dlamini, issued a strong warning to all corrupt persons and those who abused state funds and resources. The late Dlamini minced no words that the net would close-in on all corrupt people as his new government was determined to clean the country.

swearing in

He said this when was making his maiden address during a swearing in of his Cabinet ministers, a ceremony which was attended by principal secretaries and other high ranking government officials. However, in March this year, the same government said about E90 million was lost to corruption monthly in the country. In neighbouring South Africa, the AG  conducts regularity audits of national and provincial government departments, identified public entities, municipalities and municipal entities (its clients or auditees) and this has resulted in government officials, depending on the nature of the cases, having sanctions of imprisonment imposed  on them while others paid monetary fines.