Govt mischarges are unacceptable – CSOs

Analysis. Often times the Auditor General releases reports on how different government ministries have performed in the previous financial years and these never fail to indicate an issue of mischarge of funds by government officials and Daily Monitor’s Christine Kasemiire finds out why.

While ‘fight corruption’ is the mantra of the Government, audit reports of government institutions reveal that time and time again, there seems to be a case of amnesia. It is important for government to move beyond the talk and act strongly on actions designed to bring corruption under control.

The Auditor General’s reports are a good place to start. Billions of shillings are revealed to be unaccounted for every year or diverted to purposes contrary to budget allocations. Take for instance in 2017, Shs83.8b was mischarged. In 2018 the figure rose to Shs369.8b and in 2019, it increased to Shs384.7b.

Mischarge is to charge wrongly in budgeting, and it is a form of corruption in which people abuse the authority they have been entrusted with to misappropriate funds under their care.

The Auditor General highlights in the reports that government has failed to address this matter despite repeated warnings. For instance, in 2018, the judiciary mischarged Shs34b and had ineligible expenditure in the registrar high court worth Shs3.3b and doubtful accountabilities worth Shs76m.

In 2019, in the same department, funds amounting to sh565m were irregularly diverted and spent on other activities without seeking the necessary approvals.  Payments totaling to sh1.2b lacked supporting documents such as funds activity reports, payees’ acknowledgment receipts and accountability receipts thus remaining unaccounted for. 

About Shs103m was also diverted from Government of Uganda and JLOS SWAP funds to refund bail claimant’s  money that had been lost in the custody of judiciary officials before it was claimed back by the bail claimant and no evidence has since been provided to show that the funds had been refunded or recovered from the responsible officers. 

In addition, payment vouchers worth Shs320.9m paid to various officers and companies from the Registrar High Court account during the financial year under review were missing. Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) in 2018 diverted Shs281.6b towards unrelated activities and again in 2019, diverted Shs341.2b without authority, from planned activities to finance other activities. According to Mr Allan Sempebwa, manager media relations, UNRA, the monies are not being diverted.

A diversion, he says would happen if the funds meant for civil works were used for another item. He goes on to note that the funds were affixed to slow moving projects that did not have any outstanding obligations towards the end of the financial year and yet there were other fast-moving projects with outstanding obligations.

“To avert payment of interest that would arise due to failure to pay obligations on time, UNRA management in consultation with the Finance Ministry decided to use funds [on slow moving projects] to settle outstanding payments on fast moving projects and as a result, the funds were diverted to avoid the risk of paying heavy penalties on interest claims,” he explained.

When contacted for a comment, Mr Solomon Muyiita, the spokesperson for the judiciary referred Daily Monitor to the permanent secretary, Mr Puis Bigirimana, who declined the call saying he could not talk at the time. 

At Mulago Hospital, Shs3.2b was charged on items which did not reflect the nature of the expenditure as defined per the Government Chart of Accounts while at the Ministry of Health, a mischarge / diversion of funds amounting to Shs3b was unearthed.

Ministry of health spokesperson said he could not comment on the matter since he did not know the particulars of the mischarges. Wrongful or even disguised mischarges make it difficult to hold government accountable in addition to undermining the budgeting process.

In addition, transfer of funds from one activity to another means that a planned activity has been forgone which could have an impact on the budgeting process and the community that was meant to benefit from that activity.

Mubende Regional Referral Hospital, for instance, mischarged Shs777m which culminated into non construction of the paediatrics and medical wards.

In the face of increasing tax revenue collection targets muffled by a miniature tax base, the country needs to ensure strict resource management so as not to waste the little that we have.  Already, Uganda Revenue Authority registered a Shs690b shortfall in tax collections for the half year 2019/2020.

If mischarges continue persisting, the country will have to borrow even more to support herself despite the fact that it is closing in on the safe ground threshold of the public debt ceiling of 50 per cent. Mr David Bahati, the State Minister for Finance said the ministry is engaging in internal discussions to curb the vice. However, he noted, departments ought to be taking action against the accounting officers.

“The law is very clear about mischarges in the Public Finance Management Act and the accounting officers know the consequences of a mischarge. We would want the relevant departments to take action on those that are causing mischarges against the law. We are discussing it internally to see how best to handle this matter and also to take action against those people who continue to mischarge against the law,” he cautioned.

According to Cissy Kagaba, executive director, ACCU, failure to implement the Auditor General’s recommendations undermines the audit process, promotes impunity and re-emphasises lack of political will to fight corruption by the Government She further explains that over time, the number of Members of Parliament has increased, and yet audit reports are still not scrutinized on time.

“One would have expected to see the auditor general’s reports expeditiously handled, now that the country has many more Members of Parliament.” “There needs to be a correlation between having many MPs and the amount of work done,” she notes.

She also urged the Government to ensure that accounting officers repeatedly carrying out mischarges are removed from their roles. She was reiterated by Mr Julius Mukunda, executive director, Civil Society Budget Advocacy Group (CSBAG) who was unamused by government agencies’ impunity and incompetence in accounting for tax payers’ hard earned monies.

We want government to be extremely serious, and our accounting officers should also take their jobs very seriously. We are looking forward to individual public officers taking personal liability for the resources that are mismanaged under their care.

“Things of classifying everybody as homogeneous and saying they are bad should stop. We need to start isolating those who are doing a poor job and holding them responsible,” he said.

Daily Monitor

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