. . . as parliament flexes oversight muscle
MASERU – Parliament has stepped up its oversight role over the executive by demanding ministries accused of malfeasance update the legislature on steps they have taken to remedy situations complained about, Public Eye can report.
The National Assembly, which has authority to check governmental excesses, has directed Principal Secretaries in affected ministries to write to the Speaker on measures taken to comply with Public Accounts Committee (PAC) recommendations contained in its report released last month.
The directive is contained in Clerk of the National Assembly Advocate Lebohang Maema’s memo dated June 3, 2019 to all government ministries.
Maema informed Principal Secretaries that Parliament expects compliance with the recommendations in the report adopted during its May 28 and 29 sittings.
“Your esteemed Offices may be aware that on Tuesday 28 May and Wednesday 29 May, 2019, during (the) 2:30 pm sitting, the House (National Assembly) debated on an adopted motion on (the) Report on the consolidated financial statements of the government of Lesotho for the three years: 2013/2014, 2014/15 and 2015/16…
“Please be informed that this being the resolution of the house, I am bound by standing order No. 105 to inform you and anticipate your subsequent compliance thereon…” the memo further states.
According to Standing Order 105, ministers or ministries shall within 30 days of receiving communication from the Clerk of Parliament on an issue affecting their ministry report to the Speaker on the steps taken to implement resolutions of parliament.
“If the resolution or recommendation has not been implemented within 30 days, the relevant minister shall report in writing to the speaker the reasons for not implementing the resolution or recommendation, steps undertaken to implement the resolution or recommendation and the plan to implement the resolution.”
Their reports on compliance with the recommendations shall be presented to Parliament and debated in the house.
Government Secretary (GS), Moahloli Mphaka declined to comment on the matter saying a memo is an internal communication between government ministries and was therefore confidential. He refused to discuss the contents of the memo.
“Was the savingarm directed to you? If it was directed to the PSs like you are saying, then why are you involved? Is Public Eye also a Principal Secretary?”
“I do not even want to know what it entails; it was not directed to me. A savingram is a communication between government ministries, I don’t understand how you got hold of the savingram which you are neither its initiator or recipient.”
“Call recipients to the savingram, maybe they will talk about it,” he added.
PAC Chairperson, Selibe Mochoroane told Public Eye the PAC’s recommendations once adopted by parliament become resolutions and therefore binding.
He said the committee is expecting written submissions on implementation in line with the June 3 memo.
“Once adopted by parliament, PAC recommendations become parliamentary resolutions and are binding,” he said.
PAC is a sessional committee of Parliament established under Standing Order no. 97 (5) which reads: “The committee shall consider the financial statements and accounts of all government ministries and departments, executive organs of state, courts, authorities and commissions established by the constitution and of each of the two houses of Parliament; consider any audit reports issued on the financial statements, accounts or reports referred to the committee by the House, the speakers or the standing orders..”
It may report on any financial statement, accounts or reports recommended by Parliament or initiate any investigation in its area of competence.
Also, the PAC may perform any other duty assigned to it in terms of the constitution, standing orders or any other legislation or by parliament including duties concerning parliamentary financial oversight or supervision of government ministries, departments, courts, authorities and commissions established by the constitution and of each of the two houses of Parliament.
In its recent report, the committee considered three financial statements: 2013/2014, 2014/15 and 2015/16 and made a number of findings.
The report revealed that Lesotho lost M1.48 billion to corruption and under-collection of revenues over the three financial years it considered.
“The PAC wishes to bring to the attention of this honourable house and the whole nation the lost funds due to corruption and laxity to collect revenue by some line ministries and departments and reiterate the gravity of poor internal controls across the board,” the report said.
“It should be borne in mind that the above figure is the minimum. It is the amount discovered by the committee only on the areas where it was able to touch.
“Most of the funds were lost due to corruption as evidenced by criminal and fraudulent cases perpetrated by the public officers.
“Another significant loss pertains to taxes, royalties and dividends that the government is supposed to collect from mining companies, parastatals and other state-owned enterprises.”
The committee recommended that internal controls and sanctions be tightened across the board to deter public officers from misusing funds.
Some key recommendations included revamping revenue collection by government ministries, adding the Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA) “must collect all non-tax revenue on behalf of government”.
PAC also recommended government play a bigger role in the mining sector “in order to acquire substantial equity to have control over our natural resources.
“The Minister of Finance in consultation with the Minister of Mining must report back to parliament within six months,” the report reads.
Again, PAC recorded concern at the hemorrhaging of public funds through fraudulent procurement practices, and recommended establishment of an independent Bureau of Procurement as a regulatory body, coupled with formation of an electronic procurement system (e-procurement) within three years.
“The committee has also noted with concern the very slow execution of justice in Lesotho when dealing with commercial crimes. The committee therefore recommends the establishment of a special court assigned for these cases within a period not exceeding two years,” states the report.
The committee also expressed concern with the wanton and irregular transfer of police officers investigating illicit financial flows.