The Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare is mandated to provide quality public service delivery, efficient labour administration and sustainable social protection services for socio-economic transformation. However, the Auditor-General has found that in 2021 the Ministry fell short in its mandate.
Thousands of Zimbabweans who qualified to receive welfare assistance were left out of cash transfer programmes, donated equipment gathered dust at provincial stations, and resources were not properly utilised.
The Auditor-General’s report on the Ministry is contained in her Report on Appropriation Accounts, Finance and Revenue Statements and Fund Accounts for the year ending 2021; it can be accessed on the Veritas website [link].
Ministry failed to fully utilise its allocated budget
The Ministry was allocated a total of ZW$7 382 629 000 in the 2021 financial year and its total expenditure was ZW$5 867 713 446. This means at the end of the year the Ministry had ZW$1 515 915 554 that was unspent, which is disturbing considering how many families, pensioners and persons living with disabilities had to go without food at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and how many schoolchildren had to leave school through non-payment of fees.
The Auditor-General noted that the Ministry did not follow laid down procedures in paying school fees under the BEAM programme, which is designed to facilitate enrolment of orphaned and vulnerable children in school by paying their school fees, school levies and exam fees. Some schools had been overpaid, according to the report:
“The Ministry made overpayments amounting to $794 842 under the BEAM programme, to a number of schools due to lack of scrutiny of invoices upon payment. This was contrary to section 53(1) of the Public Finance Management (Treasury Instructions), 2019 which states that all payments made should be appropriately authorised, accurate, complete and adequately supported.”
Although in response the Ministry said that the overpayments were being recovered, the fact that some schools were overpaid meant that deserving children at other schools may have been unable to get much-needed assistance from the BEAM programme.
Mismanagement of Assets
The Auditor-General found that 120 motor bikes, which UNICEF donated to the Ministry in 2015, were lying idle at provincial offices because the social workers who were supposed to use them were not trained – meaning, presumably, that the social workers did not know how to or did not have licences to ride them.
The Auditor-General noted that underutilisation of available resources could result in the Ministry failing to realise its goals.
Vulnerable Urban Persons Fund
This Fund was established in 2020 to provide social safety nets in the form of cash transfers to vulnerable persons in urban areas, particularly those employed in the informal sector, who could not work because of the COVID-19 lockdown.
Money was transferred to the beneficiaries electronically, into their mobile phones, and to enable the beneficiaries to receive the money the Ministry purchased sim cards for them.
The Fund was allocated a total of ZW$98 000 000 in the 2020 financial year but utilised only ZW$90 075 112, leaving a balance of ZW$7 924 888 that was not distributed to beneficiaries.
Beneficiary selection not clear
The Auditor-General established that the selection of beneficiaries was murky and haphazard. As a result many deserving people may have been left out and some undeserving people may have benefited:
“There was no system in place for the identification, verification and payment of allowances to beneficiaries who were running small to medium businesses whose operations were disrupted by the COVID-19 containment measures. 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. It was also noted that payments were made to beneficiaries with fictitious identity numbers and suspicious names, incorrect and insufficient contact addresses.”
Some funds probably went astray or were misappropriated. As the Auditor-General said:
“Additionally, no efforts were made to verify the existence of the beneficiaries and no reconciliations were done with the mobile money service provider to confirm whether all the payments reached the intended beneficiaries as there were instances where the mobile money service provider issued two (2) different Net One lines to the same individual, with some allowances being sent to wrong provinces and districts, thus not reaching the intended user.”
Uncollected sim cards
The Ministry procured 207 787 Net One sim cards to disburse funds to the vulnerable. Of these lines, only 202 076 were distributed to registered beneficiaries, according to documents shown to the Auditor-General’s staff. This left a balance of 5 711 funded lines that remained unallocated. As the Auditor-General noted, these unallocated lines could have been used to misappropriate money from the Fund.
Public Service Ministry a repeat offender
The Auditor-General made a worrying note that the Ministry had not addressed most of the issues raised in the previous financial year. Of the seven issues raised the Ministry had addressed only one; three were partially addressed, and three had not been addressed at all. For example:
• double payments dating back to 2018 had been partially recovered, but more double payments were made in 2021,
• expenditure reconciliations were not done again in 2021,
• payment vouchers were again not submitted for audit,
• for the third year running the Ministry did not have an information technology policy or an IT plan.
The Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare is responsible for managing and disbursing many billions of dollars – its allocation in the budget for 2023 will be ZW$91 620 309 000. This is a heavy responsibility because millions of people in the poorest and most vulnerable sections of our society depend for their survival on government funding and assistance disbursed by the Ministry. Those people are the ones who suffer most if the Ministry wastes, misappropriates or fails to disburse its funds.
Under the Public Finance Management Act a Ministry’s accounting officer – usually the Permanent Secretary – is responsible for controlling the expenditure of money allocated to the Ministry by Parliament. Accounting officers who fail in their duties are guilty of financial misconduct under section 85 of the Act and must be disciplined under section 87.
Perhaps it is time government accounting officers were reminded of these provisions.