Auditor-General unearths rampant looting of Covid-19 funds by Govt bigwigs

Zimbabwe’s Auditor General has unearthed serious irregularities in the handling of COVID-19 funds in the country, citing rampant abuse and corruption on the disbursement of coronavirus funds and other resources.

The detailed report, tabled by parliament, shows that allowances meant for food insecure households, disabled people, the elderly and child-headed families were not received by the beneficiaries due to various reasons, including duplicate payments and disbursement of funds to people with fictitious names.

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In a statement, Auditor General Mildred Chiri, said, “There were clear control weaknesses identified in most of the visited provinces relating to the ordering, delivery, invoicing and payment of goods and services. Inadequate record keeping was a common feature across the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) who did not always have updated or reliable information on donations and how they were distributed, goods and services delivered and reports on the implementation status of Government initiatives to fight the pandemic.

“The lack of validation, integration and sharing of data and outdated or incorrect information across Government platforms resulted in some beneficiaries, including Government officials, receiving COVID-19 relief disbursements they might not have been entitled. This defeated the purpose of the disbursements as the intended beneficiaries could have been deprived of the assistance.”

Chiri said the inability to coordinate and oversee complimentary efforts by multiple government departments and agencies and in managing the usage of $1,980,876 disbursed for funding of frontline workers and public sector investment projects such as the provision of clean water, ablution facilities, quarantine and isolation services and other services necessary in the fight against COVID19, affected the timeous take off of these projects.

“The disbursement of $89,022,103 worth of Covid-19 allowances by the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Head Office to SMEs whose businesses were forced to close due to measures put in place to minimise the spread of COVID-19, food insecure households, people with disabilities, the elderly, chronically ill persons and child headed households from May 19, 2020 to December 12, 2020 failed to achieve intended results due to various reasons which include unreliable databases, duplicate payments to beneficiaries and the payment to beneficiaries with fictitious particulars.

“There was neither a follow up nor feedback mechanism to verify if the allowances had reached the intended beneficiaries despite evidence that in some instances, the mobile money service provider issued two lines to the same person, some of the lines were not uploaded with the allowances and the presence of piles of uncollected sim cards at District and Provincial offices.”

Chiri said, in the same vein, the Ministry of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation also paid COVID-19 relief allowances ranging from $1,500 to $5,000 to youths, sports persons and artists whose sources of income were negatively affected by the COVID-19 national lockdown measures through a selection process done at District Offices.

“However, the Ministry failed to achieve the objective of the intervention in some instances due to non-compliance with the COVID19 Youth Relief Fund Operational Framework Section 3 (2) (a) which required beneficiaries of the COVID19 relief funds to avail proof of operation for a minimum of 6 months to a year prior to the lockdown.

“Seven (7) Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDA) in Manicaland, Mashonaland West and Matabeleland South paid COVID-19 allowances totalling $2,654,089 and air time worth $22,165 to members of staff reporting for duty during the national lockdown period covering April to July 2020 without competent authority.”

She said a total of $3,999,300 was disbursed to urban food assistance beneficiaries in the Midlands province between April and August 2020 without evidence of a pre-assessment suitability being done, “contrary to the requirements of Section 4 (3) of Social Welfare Assistance Act [Chapter 17:06] which prescribes the need for review and assessment of eligibility of persons for social welfare assistance.”

She also noted that there were serious management issues at the country’s quarantine centers.

“I observed some anomalies in the management of Quarantine Centres where the procurement process for food and other provisions were not supported by approved requisitions from the Centres. Equally missing was lack of evidence of reconciliations of the cost of goods and services paid for by the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Head Office with the actual goods and services received by each Quarantine Centre.”

She said Esikhoveni Quarantine Centre, for example, had not collected goods from the supplier, four months after payment and this raised questions if the expenditure was in line with the needs at the Quarantine Centre.

Chiri said Matabeleland South Provincial Medical Director’s Office, Municipality of Gweru, Chinhoyi Provincial Hospital and Esikhoveni Quarantine Centre misapplied funds amounting to $276,966, $581,945, $35,324 and $16,239, respectively, to cater for other COVID19 related costs not intended by the disbursement authorities. She added that in some centres money for frontline line workers allowances in the Health sector remained unpaid, thus demotivating intended beneficiaries.

“There was no transparency in the payment of bus fares to discharged inmates at Quarantine Centres due to the absence of documented guidelines to determine the amount due to each one of them. In some instances, there was no evidence that the inmates had received the indicated amounts due to the absence of signed payment schedules.

“A case in point is the Midlands Provincial Social Welfare Office which paid bus fares totalling $604 760 without signed payment schedules. Similarly, Masvingo Provincial Social Welfare Office only paid bus fares amounting to $59,460 of the allocated $860,000 during the period May to October 2020.

“It was difficult to confirm whether the payments of administration fees charged to the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare by Institutions that were used as Quarantine Centres were authentic because there was no evidence of supporting authority and guidelines on the payment of the fees. Moreover, the billed invoices were not supported by records of the number of inmates and staff available each day at these Centres.”

She said there was slow progress in the rehabilitation and refurbishment of Isolation Centres. As at 12 December 2020, a total of $180,000,000 had been disbursed to Central, Provincial and District Hospitals for these purposes, but only 9 centres had been completed and functional out of the targeted 32 centres countrywide.

“The District Development Fund (DDF) was tasked with drilling boreholes and rehabilitating existing ones countrywide in response to the pandemic. However, it failed to meet the objective of the intervention, managing to drill only 31 of the targeted 48. Of these, only three (3) were functional. The functionality of the rest was affected by failure to procure critical components such as water pumps and six (6) were dry holes.

“COVID-19 financial and in-kind donations for the safety and benefit of the public, Hospitals, Isolation and Quarantine Centres were neither recorded nor adequately accounted for by the MDAs.”

Chiri said the procurement of goods and services by some entities were in violation of procurement regulations and done in the absence of procurement plans.

“This was in contravention of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Act [Chapter 22:23], and in violation of the Procurement Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (PRAZ) Circular Number 3 of 17 June, 2020 which requested all procuring entities to submit records for all COVID19 requirements to cover the pandemic emergency phase. Manicaland Provincial Works Office awarded tenders worth $20,800,000 without following procurement regulations.

“Money disbursed to State Universities to support Covid-19 research was fully utilised and accounted for at the time of the audit.”

Deputy Health Minister, Dr. John Mangwiro, told media that the contents of the report have nothing to do with his ministry.

Social Welfare Minister Paul Mavhima was unavailable for comment. □

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