Top bureaucrats from the Ministry of Infrastructure (Mininfra) and its affiliated public transport agency – Onatracom, yesterday laboured to respond to hard-hitting queries related to mismanagement of public funds.
Their explanations left members of the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) dismayed for the most part of over-three-hours of grilling.
The officials, most of whom are new in their jobs, more often than not, faltered and attempted to evade issues and shifted blame as MPs cross-examined them about the ‘gross’ loss of funds as highlighted in the 2009/10 Auditor General’s report.
Nonetheless, some acknowledged challenges and inefficiencies.
At one point, James Kamanzi, the new Mininfra Permanent Secretary, noted that the ministry has a large number of staff, many of whom are not fully utilised.
“There is a problem of employees who are not competent. I would rather have half the current staff, but who can deliver,” Kamanzi said.
The 2009/10 report highlights weaknesses in preparation of financial statements, citing omission of receivables and payables, omitted bank accounts and balances, errors in books of account, unexplained differences in opening balances and lack of approval in adjusting entries.
A long-serving former acting Director of Finance at Mininfra, Jean Baptiste Bacondo, angered MPs when he attempted to downplay their concern over poor financial statements.
He suggested that the few posting errors indentified in the ministry’s general transactions, “have no impact” on the ministry’s financial standing
“In the Auditor General’s report of 2009/10, there were only four posting errors yet the ministry handles over 10,000 transactions,” Bacondo said.
“I want him to avoid that idea of assuming that posting errors have no impact, for us we can have other conclusions’” Hon. Marie Claire Ingabire said angrily.
“One can make a mistake, but people can also do it intentionally with intent to confuse, embezzle, or do other illegal actions. We get suspicious because there could be other dubious issues disguised behind this posting of errors”.
On the contrary, when pressed, Jean de Dieu Khan Hakizimana, the current Director of Administration and Finance, admitted that posting errors, though few, impact on a ministry’s standing, as well as the whole economy.
MPs probed the tendering and procurement processes wondering if they were carried out unlawfully.
They reflected on why the ministry awarded tenders worth over Rwf 557 million, without advertising and allowing room for proper competition as required by the law.
The ministry also could not avail a list of all public assets, whose management it is entrusted with.
MPs further asked the ministry to provide the completion calendar of various energy projects in the country.
Tougher questions were asked, and very few clear or acceptable answers obtained, particularly when it came to state-owned public transport provider, ONATRACOM.
Onatracom’s current boss, Denis Basabose, owned up, noting that the public transport operator was encumbered by serious problems, especially with its current state of insolvency.
Basabose, who has managed Onatracom for nearly five months, acknowledged that the agency’s vehicles are dilapidated and the few on the road are in bad shape.
It has about 180 and only about 20 are in working condition.
“So you understand that we can’t say that we carry passengers yet we have over 100 vehicles down,” Basabose said.
He added that of the over 100 routes, they are now operating only 54, and most of them, not daily.
When challenged to explain the cause, Basabose laid all blame on poor management and weak internal control systems.
A long serving procurement officer, Marie Murangire, angered MPs when she blamed the government for 99 percent of Onatracom’s demise as she noted that most of the money-generating services were cut off, yet Onatracom was not compensated.
Murangire cited the technical control of vehicles that was transferred to the police, the management of taxi parks in the city, and car licensing. But when asked to substantiate the claims, she could not. Murangire was even unaware of the revenue generated by the transport parastatal before its various segments were taken away, and how its loss impacted on it.
“Are you telling us that there is no room for profits in your business plan?” Hon. Jean Baptiste Musemakweli posed, wanting to know whether returning the previous services to the agency would remedy its insolvency. Murangire opted for silence.
But Basabose admitted that the problems highlighted in the Auditor General’s report have nothing to do with the transfer of services, but instead reflect lack of proper financial control.
When pressed about a business plan, the officials admitted they did not have one but were currently working on it. The Auditor General’s report indicates that Onatracom’s property was poorly managed, with problems including lack of stock cards as well as over Rwf 28 million in property that disappeared without trace.
MPs partly apportioned blame on the government for the agency’s failure, with the PAC Chairperson, Juvenal Nkusi, wondering what Mininfra had done as the situation deteriorated.
The PAC wants the two entities to follow up on outstanding issues and report back with clear procedures on how these would be rectified.
“We do not want issues such as posting errors to return. It is not about lack of capacity but it is, instead, skill in diverting funds,” accused Nkusi.
PAC has summoned over 190 government officials to explain their role in the losses highlighted in the Auditor General’s 2009/10 report.
According to the AG’s report, public institutions could not account for Rwf 9.7 billion.