AG Opens Pandora’s Box On Covid-19 Funds Theft
5 August 2021

By A Correspondent- The Auditor-General (AG) Mildred Chiri has exposed gross irregularities and deliberate manipulation of figures to facilitate theft of donations meant for COVID-19 relief allowances and projects that saw undeserving government officials and individuals benefiting.

This was revealed in a latest special audit report on the financial management and utilisation of public resources in combating the COVID-19 pandemic in the country by ministries, government departments and agencies.

The report was tabled in the National Assembly on Tuesday by Speaker Jacob Mudenda.

In the report, Chiri revealed shocking details on how fake names, identity documents and mobile phone numbers were used as part of a broader scheme to siphon part of the over $890 million from government. The audit was undertaken with the aid of the World Bank in the country’s six out of 10 provinces, focusing on disbursement of COVID-19 relief funds, management of quarantine centres and isolation centres, among others.

“The easing of some controls and the streamlining of processes and procedures to facilitate emergency responses and quick actions to the crisis, exposed the government to the possible risks of misuse or abuse of public resources,” Chiri said.

“Inadequate record-keeping was a com-mon feature as the ministries, departments and agencies did not always have updated or reliable information on the donations received and distributed, goods and services delivered and reports on the implementation status of the government initiatives to fight the pandemic.”

She said incorrect and out-dat-ed information was used across government departments.

“This resulted in some beneficiaries, including the government officials, receiving COVID-19 relief disbursements they might not have been entitled to. This defeated the purpose for which the disbursements were made as the intended beneficiaries could have been deprived of the assistance.”

COVID-19 allowances were supposed to be paid to small-to-medium enterprises whose in-comes were affected by lockdowns, food insecure households, people with disabilities, the elderly, chronically-ill persons and child-headed households.

Information on the would-be beneficiaries was forwarded to the Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare ministry through the provincial social welfare offices.

Investigations by NewsDay exposed how some Zanu-PF and government officials manipulated the system for personal benefit.

On the disbursement of over $89 022 103, Chiri said: “The main reasons that caused the failure were that the processes of identification and assessment of intended beneficiaries was not properly co-ordinated, resulting in unreliable databases of beneficiaries, processing of payments to duplicate beneficiary names and beneficiaries who had similar identity numbers, but of different gender and dates of birth.”

There was also processing of payments to beneficiaries with fictitious identity numbers and suspicious names, incorrect and insufficient contact addresses as well as use of similar contact addresses for beneficiaries in districts.

“No follow-up mechanism was developed to verify the existence of the beneficiaries and whether the allowances had reached the intended beneficiaries.

“No feedback in the form of paysheets were provided by the Public Service ministry head office to provincial and district offices regarding the names of beneficiaries who had qualified and had been paid the COVID-19 relief allowances to facilitate confirmation of receipt and reconciliations.”

On COVID-19 relief allowances for youths, sportspersons and artists, the AG raised the red flag on the criteria used for selection and registration of beneficiaries.

The red flag was also raised on allowances paid to government employees without “competent authority”.

“COVID-19 allowances and airtime paid to government employees. Seven ministries, departments and agencies in Manicaland, Mashonaland West and Matabeleland South paid COVID-19 allowances totalling $2 654 089 and airtime worth $22 165 to members of staff reporting for duty during the lockdown period covering April to July 2020 without competent authority.”

Management of quarantine centres was also marred in controversy as the cost of food provisions, accommodation, daily upkeep and transport of the inmates at the quarantine centres was not properly handled.

“There were no clear and documented guidelines on the process of determining the amount of bus fare to be given to discharge inmates. In some instances, there was no evidence that the discharged inmates had received the indicated amounts as they did not sign on the payment schedule.”

On money meant for the drilling of boreholes, she said: “Out of the 48 boreholes that DDF had planned to drill in the six provinces I visited, 31 boreholes were drilled, but were not functional as water pumps had not been installed. Eight boreholes were not drilled, three boreholes were drilled and water pumps installed, six were dry holes as at December 12, 2020.”

“An estimated total amount of $6 650 000 was spent on the 38 non-functional boreholes. The pumps were not installed due to inadequate planning and prioritisation to ensure that each borehole is worked on to completion rather than partly working on many boreholes, exhausting the available resources.”

Chiri said the objective for which the boreholes were drilled was not fully achieved as a result.

In some cases, she said there was inadequate capacity assessment of contractors and there were cases of awarding of several contracts to one contractor.-Newsday