The Public Accounts Committee wrapped up this year’s examination of government’s books of Accounts on Friday last week and it is interesting to note that though there is change in committee in terms of the members, the leadership and members’ credentials which are predominantly positive we must add, Accounting officers on the other hand though with new faces here and there still carry with them the old attitude and trickery of being evasive, dodging to account, hiding behind technicalities and even trying to be intimidating.
This unsavory behaviour by Accounting Officers at times reflect bad on the PAC; giving impressions that the committee’s recommendations which we must add are reached after rigorous work of mind applying expertise and contribution to get officials to account are all in vain. For example some ministries have not yet implemented recommendations to put their books in order by previous PACs from as far back as more than five years ago. A good example is failure by the Office of the President to make the rightful adjustments to the National Disaster fund books regarding the lump sum they diverted from its budget to form the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services. The Office of the President was in 2008 slammed for diverting close to P12.4 million in the accounts of the National Disaster Relief Fund (NDRF) from its intended use to the formation of the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS). The Auditor-General on the Accounts of the Botswana Government for the Financial Year ended 31st March 2008 revealed that the hasty inception of the country’s secret service, on the eve of Khama’s ascension to the highest office, led to the use of unauthorised funds as there was no accounting code for an otherwise nonexistent department.
Although despite such setbacks the PAC carried out its work diligently it is sad to note that some ministries are still instructed to re-do their submissions after presenting shoddy work to the committee; where is the respect for oath to serve the nation and honor that comes with it in that . This lack of seriousness and a sense of accountability by government ministries is disappointing to say the least, uncalled for and should be discouraged at all costs. In one incident it was revealed that Botswana might lose over P1m owed to the government by one Zimbabwean government-owned company over cattle sales. The debt, which is close to five years in existence, is according to a representative from the Attorney Generals Chambers risk being written off should the debtor raise a prescription defense.
In yet another incident the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development has failed to justify to the Public Accounts Committee why close to P1m was paid out as compensation to the late Assistant Minister of Local Government and Rural Development Maxwell Motowane’s family after his demise.The ministry made a payout of close to a Million Pula to the surviving widow of the late Motowane following his death in late 2012.
Be that as it may, it is important to note that the PAC nonetheless has managed to unearth several aspects that should the government of the day take into consideration, change will be inevitable. This includes remittance of tax by ministries, retiring of imprest by civil servants; these two clearly demonstrate that there are capacity challenges and/ or lack of will to collect government revenue by officers. The supervision of government projects also needs to be looked at and full appreciation and exploration and implementation of the e-government project which if successful could minimize the lack of coordination, bureaucracy and red tape in the civil service. It remains an important area to prioritize. Nevertheless as the committee will be submitting its findings to parliament during this winter sitting we pray that this should not be a matter of procedure but that parliament make it a point that all government funds are accounted for. Otherwise all the efforts and public resources used in setting up and operationalising these oversight parliamentary committees would have gone to waste, rendering them just talk shops.