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Millions of Covid funds looted

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Looting, poor resource management and fraudulent activities in the allocation, management and disbursement of COVID 19 resources could have prejudiced the government of ZW$12m, an inquiry report by the Public Accounts Committee shows.

The committee recommended that the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission and Zimbabwe Republic Police should investigate the anomalies it highlighted in the management of the resources disbursed for the COVID 19 response.

The inquiry report on the COVID 19 pandemic financial management and utilisation of public resources in the country’s provinces by ministries, departments and agencies was tabled and presented in parliament on Tuesday.

According to the report, some funds disbursed through the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare under the national response to the COVID 19 pandemic in 2020 could not be accounted for, leaving a probability that they could have been embezzled.

The report highlighted that some of the funds that could not be accounted for were COVID 19 allowances, bus fares for inmates in quarantine centres, urban social welfare assistance disbursements and cash payments. It also showed that some financial and goods donations made to quarantine centres might have been looted.

In Manicaland, the social welfare department could not provide supporting paperwork for $3 959 950 disbursed by the head office, the report said.

“The Manicaland Provincial Social Welfare Officer could not provide to the Auditor General, a consolidated report and copies of confirmation of receipt of the $3 959 950 COVID 19 allowances disbursed by Head Office and paid to 18 349 beneficiaries in the Province,” reads the report.

“There was no system of accountability in the receipt of allowances from Head Office and there was no reasonable justification for the Provincial Office’s failure to adhere to simple accounting procedures. It would appear that the omission was deliberate and therefore dereliction of duty.”

Under the urban social welfare food assistance programme, the social welfare authorities in Kwekwe and Zvishavane failed to verify the eligibility of beneficiaries in the payment of over $4m cash disbursements.

“The Kwekwe and Zvishavane District Social Development Offices (DSDO) did not avail for audit inspection documentary evidence to show that the urban food beneficiaries who received cash disbursements totalling $187 000 and $3 806 300 respectively during the months of April, May, July and August 2020 were assessed to determine whether or not they qualified to be in the urban feeding programme.”

Duplications in the registration of beneficiaries under the cash disbursements to vulnerable households resulted in some receiving the funds two times at the same time, the report noted.

“58 beneficiaries who received COVID19 allowances amounting to $45 240, had similar identity numbers, different dates of birth and of a different gender. 375 beneficiaries had uncontactable addresses and ID numbers quoted which did not exist as confirmed with the RG’s Office. These beneficiaries received COVID19 allowances amounting to $292 500.”

It added: “Eighteen (18) beneficiaries paid under the Mangwe District Department of Social Welfare received duplicate Net One lines each loaded with $600 for the payment of COVID19 relief allowances. There was no evidence that communication had been made to the relevant Net One office so that the error, which might have resulted in the beneficiaries being paid twice, could be rectified.”

The report revealed that in Masvingo, authorities could not provide proof that inmates at Mushagashe Quarantine Centre who were purportedly paid $516 370 had actually received the money as they did not sign for it. A total amount of $597 460 was paid to inmates as bus fare, but some did not sign the acquittal forms as proof of receipt of payment.

In Matabeleland South, the provincial social welfare overpaid a service provider by $1 006 920 and the money was not reimbursed, the report says.

“Gwanda Provincial Social Welfare office overpaid Appleridge Investments when it made three payments totaling $1 938 340 for the same invoice number 012 in respect of catering services rendered at DDF and Beitbridge quarantine centres from August 3, 2020 to September 15, 2020. Furthermore, another invoice amounting to $579 570 was also paid to the same company.”

In explaining the anomaly, the ministry officials submitted that reconciliations had been done and these had established that the company had been overpaid by an amount of $1 006 920 which the company also acknowledged.

The report also highlights anomalies in the procurement of groceries at quarantine centres where reconciliations for the purchased goods were not done by the responsible authorities.

“There were no payment vouchers prepared for amounts paid to retail suppliers for the goods collected. Mashonaland Central Provincial Social Welfare Office did not carry out reconciliations of groceries collected against the amounts that had been paid to OK Zimbabwe amounting to $632 550. https://businesstimes.co.zw/millions-of-covid-funds-looted/

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