OFFICIALS from the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare helped themselves to $500 000 which they used to buy food hampers from the money that was meant for the Basic Education Assistance Module at a time when schools are owed $39 million in unpaid fees from pupils under the facility.
The revelations were made by the Auditor-General, Mrs Mildred Chiri in her 2015 annual report on appropriation accounts, finance accounts, revenue statements and fund accounts.
The fund is managed by the Ministry of Public Service and is meant to act as a safety net by providing fee waivers for eligible primary and secondary education children for tuition, examination fess and applicable levies.
“During the year under review, Treasury released $7 million for the programme. Despite arrears amounting to $39 million as at December 31, 2015, the Ministry used $419 968 to meet expenditure not related to BEAM objectives. BEAM may fail to meet its objectives if its resources are utilised for expenditures other than advancing the education of the disadvantaged,” noted Mrs Chiri in her report.
In responding to findings of the AG, the ministry confirmed the use of a fraction of the funds for the purchase of “staff hampers”, alleging that this was per ministerial policy. “It is acknowledged that a total of $239 250 was used to finance staff hampers as per Ministry policy and secretary’s approval.
“Ideally this cost should have been met from institutional provisions but unfortunately Treasury did not release the requisite funding over the period. This payment was done using the 10 percent administration provision which is outlined in the BEAM manual,” reads the Ministry’s report.
However, the AG dismissed this explanation by the Ministry noting that: “ . . . the 10 percent that the Ministry is basing this expenditure on appears remote from the administration of BEAM.”
Commenting on the delays of disbursement of BEAM and how it was affecting the education sector, Primary and Secondary Education Minister Dr Lazarus Dokora said while they understood the economic problems they now had to come up with a compromise where they insisted the Government could at least release funds for examination fees.
“We have an inter-Ministerial team which is looking on the issue of BEAM and what the best way forward could be, but now we are insisting that while they try to raise what they owe they pay examination fees at least for all the eligible students.
“However, considering our position of education for all, we are saying the two ministries must ensure that this programme doesn’t die a natural death but we find ways to address the present crisis where schools are owed millions of dollars,” said Dr Dokora.
Meanwhile, the AG also uncovered a suspicious flow of money within the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, where officials paid various grants to funds under their administration and then later borrow the same money.
“In my 2014 audit report, I made mention that the ministry owed various funds under its administration. At the beginning of the year the balance stood at $310 651, during the year, expenditure amounting to $548 974 was met from the funds’ resources while $168 948 was reimbursed resulting in a closing outstanding balance of $672 677.
“I also observed that there was a lot of movement of money between the ministry and the various fund accounts. The ministry pays grants to the funds and later on borrows the same money which it subsequently reimburses upon receipt of treasury release.
“This criss-cross of funds does not promote effective budgetary control and fiscal discipline. The practice of borrowing money from funds also cripples operations of the same,” reads part of the AG’s findings.
According to the report the ministry owes a total of $672 677 to funds which include; Disabled Pension Fund ($250 622), National Rehabilitation Centre Welfare fund ($17 602, Child Welfare Fund ($5 355), National Drought Fund ($21 022), Public Assistance ($164 032), Older Persons Fund ($50 525), Public Service Training Loan Fund ($115 654) and the Public Service Amenities Fund ($47 864).