MASERU – Acting Director General of the Directorate of Corruption and Economic offences (DCEO) Advocate Sefako Seema says Public Accounts Committee (PAC)’s findings are not prima facie evidence that can be used to prosecute a suspect.
As a consequence, the institution needs to conduct its own investigations to build a body of evidence against anyone accused of wrongdoing.
He said this in the wake of a pack of PAC recommendations entreating the corruption fighting agency to probe and even prosecute some cases.
PAC last month released a report on the consolidated financial statements of the Government for the financial years 2013/14, 2014/15 and 2015/16 and recommended the DCEO investigates a number of issues in different government ministries.
But Seema told Public Eye that the institution first has to do its own investigations using the PAC findings as a starting point.
He maintained that their investigators will first have to carry out independent investigations to safely conclude that an offence has been committed.
“It should be noted though that we investigate for purposes of prosecution and conviction, when we receive a report, e.g. from PAC, that is not a prima facie case of corruption, we also have to make an indepth investigation, guided by the law and our mandate,” he said.
“The test used in criminal courts may not necessarily be the same as the one used during ordinary audits, investigators must gather independent evidence,” he added.
Among its recommendations to the DCEO, PAC said the anti-corruption body should finalise cases relating to corruption within the Old Age Pension Scheme (OAP) under the ministry of finance, to commence investigations regarding the blasting tender at Seate Community council in Mokhotlong which the PAC believe were corruptly awarded.
“The committee raised concern that maladministration of the Old Age Pension Scheme (OAP) has resulted in huge loss of government funds. It was discovered that under the leadership of Mr Thabo Ramochela, corruption is rife within the section whereby officers deliberately engaged in unethical practices.
“For example, they decided to abandon the use of cash boxes when paying elderly pensioners but used their own handbags. Cases of ghost pensioners were revealed, whereby some pensioners died a long time ago, but their names were not removed from the payroll,” read part of the report.
The report further states the Committee was informed that some officers were benefiting from payments intended for the dead pensioners.
The PAC also directed the DCEO to investigate the extension of contracts without justification within the ministry of Public Works and Transport within 30 days after publication of the report.
“The Committee was informed that contractors for the provision of the blank number plates and printing of drivers’ licenses had their contacts extended on several occasions unlawfully. The ministry acknowledged that Uni-Plate company’s contract had been extended without following proper procedures and cost the government M3, 743, 777.
“They sought the approval of the Tender Panel, not the Minister of Finance, thereby contravening section 8 of Public Procurement Regulations 2007. The Committee was concerned by the practices of the officers of this ministry and reiterated the recommendation of the Auditor General…”
Also, the report states that Link Engineering Solutions within the Ministry of Public Works was engaged without proper procedures and supplied the ministry with wrong paint (water paint) for roads but no action was taken against the company.
Realising that management of the ministry is reluctant to report fraud cases to the police, PAC recommended that the DCEO start investigating the whole matter.
Asked whether the DCEO has the financial and human resource capacity to comply with the time frames recommended by the PAC, Seema said his understanding was PAC recommendations and timelines are for following up on the reported cases, “which we embrace since there has been a concern that recommendations of the Public Accounts Committee are not followed up. We shall be meeting soon to provide the updates and the like. The nature of criminal investigation is that, though you can have a plan during investigations so many aspects may arise which may delay, but what is important is for public offices (like us) to account, which is what is the sole objective of the timelines.”
He said while they have to meet and implement the recommendations within the time frames set, the institution is also constrained by budgets. “We have experienced huge budgets cuts and have to operate with the little we have.”
Seema also said while the institution is still understaffed, it will not be much of a hassle to follow up the PAC’s recommendations because these are consultative in nature.
“There has over time been an outcry about lack of resources in the DCEO. For instance, the staff compliment of the DCEO is around 70 all inclusive, with less than 20 investigators serving the entire country. So, the recommendations as they are, we have to deal with them, the good thing about them is that they are consultative.”
He added that the institution continues to face both financial and human resource challenges which affected output.
“The challenges, as we said before, include resources, both financial and human; our budget this year for operations has been cut drastically such that our operations are crippled, which also has a bearing on the output.”
PAC Chairperson, Selibe Mochoroane told Public Eye the PAC’s recommendations once adopted by parliament become resolutions and are binding.
He said most of the findings they made and engaged DCEO on have already been dealt with by the DCEO and suggested that they be finilised.
“It’s in less than 20 percent of the recommendations to the DCEO where we have suggested fresh areas where there is need for investigations, our expectation is that they come back and report…”
Mochoboroane explained that, according to the Parliament standing order number 105, all government ministries, including the DCEO, have to comply with the PAC recommendations because they have become resolutions after adoption by parliament.
The Clerk of the National Assembly, Lebohang Maema, has since written to all ministries reminding them of the compliance with the recommendations within the PAC report.
“Your esteemed Offices may be aware that on Tuesday, 28 May and Wednesday, 29 May 2019, during the 2:30 p.m. sitting, the house (National Assembly) debated on an adopted motion about a 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 report further reads.
According to standing order 105, ministries shall within 30 days of receiving communication from the clerk write to the Speaker on the steps undertaken to implement the resolution or recommendations or the plan to implement the resolution or recommendation.
“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.”