Ministry admits cutting corners in US$3 billion Command Agriculture payment

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By Anna Chibamu

A top government official has admitted to the finance ministry making dubious payments to different line ministries without parliament approval and non-compliance with the Public Finance Management Act.

Government Accountant General Daniel Muchemwa was giving oral evidence before the Tendai Biti led Public Accounts portfolio committee.

Referring to US$3.2 Billion paid to Command Agriculture in 2017 and 2018 agricultural season, Muchemwa admitted the ministry did not seek approval from parliament in disbursing the money to Sakunda Holdings and Grain Marketing Board (GMB).

Muchemwa reported Monday that Sakunda Holdings and GMB were paid monies for services in the Agriculture sector for the programme introduced in 2016.

“We erred in some of the transactions made and apologise for that. We promise not to repeat the same mistake,” Muchemwa said.

However, committee chair and former Finance Minister Biti was not convinced the apology was enough, further demanding to know, “the legal basis of the Finance Ministry in making the unapproved payments outside the public accounting system and also to name those who received the payments”.

“You are the parent ministry and why do you make direct payments to suppliers outside the line ministries and in this case, the lands ministry?” Biti queried.

Finance Ministry Chief Director, Expenditure Management Zvinechimwe Ruvinga Churu representing Permanent Secretary George Guvamatanga responded, “It is true. We are fully aware that whenever we desire to make payments that are outside the appropriated budget, it is important that we approach Parliament and come up with a supplementary budget within 60 days after spending that money for condonation.

“There was no legal basis for making payments that were not approved by Parliament. There is no defence Sir. We erred in that regard,” Churu responded.

Last week, Lands ministry Perm Secretary Ringson Chitsiko told the same committee his ministry was not aware of the transactions made to suppliers by the Finance Ministry.