Home » Travel » MPs Blast Tourism Ministry Over Car Purchases

THE tourism ministry on Monday came under criticism from Parliament for purchasing second hand vehicles for the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) general assembly in violation of government policy, and for failing to submit annual reports to the Auditor General.

Officials appeared before the public accounts portfolio committee to respond to a number of anomalies raised in the Auditor General’s 2011 report, but the ministry’s permanent secretary Florence Nhemairo was also quizzed about the purchase of six vehicles in 2012 without following procedure and for failing to submit annual returns.

“The AG notes that it has become a habit for you to make aance payments for the acquisition of second hand vehicles. What is your explanation for this irregular practice?” said Kambuzuma legislator, Willias Madzimure (MDC).

The ministry purchased two unnamed second hand vehicles at a cost of $24,000 and a further four – two Nissan Elgrand cars, a Toyota Radius and a Nissan Blue Bird for $35,000 against government’s policy not to purchase second hand vehicles.

MPs said there was no independent valuations of the charges and assessment of the vehicles for fitness and that CMED was not consulted while the Procurement Committee was not involved in the purchase.

“The ministry is aware that we do not acquire second hand vehicles,” said Nhemairo in response, but added that delays in disbursement of funds in 2011 “drove the ministry into a corner.”

“It was therefore impractical for the ministry to go through the normal tender procedures and to observe the regulations. The ministry did not have any option but to purchase the much needed vehicles considering we were facing the deadline to co-host the UNWTO with Zambia,” she said.

Chikomba East legislator, Edgar Mbwembwe (Zanu PF) said: “What concerns me is that it looks like the hosting of the UNWTO was taken aantage of to cut corners.

“It’s not as if you woke up one day and you realised that you had to host UNWTO, it was a government priority and should have been given priority in terms of allocation of resources.”

“How did you end up in a crisis and in a corner to buy second hand vehicles?” he queried.

In response the Nhemairo said there was no time for the procurement committee to sit and that her predecessor, Margaret Sangarwe, carried out internal consultations.

“She personally went around trying to procure the best vehicles,” she said.

This drew further fire from MPs who queried the transparency of the process. MPs demanded the identities of the people from which the vehicles were purchased.

Nhemairo admitted that there was time for proper procedures to be followed on the purchase of four of the vehicles.

“I can’t give you any reason why flouting of procedure was not acted upon. I really have no valid reason to give,” she said.

Pressed further, Nhemairo she said an inquiry into the matter would be carried out and the ministry was given five weeks to submit a report.

The officials were also pressed over delays in submitting annual returns to the AGs office.

“There are weaknesses which persisted from 2011 to 2012 and there were no reconciliations,” committee chairperson and legislator for Mufakose, Paurina Mpariwa said.

Her sentiments were echoed by Bulawayo South MP, Eddie Cross (MDC) who questioned why the ministry had not acted on the concerns raised in the AGs report.

“When the Auditor General writes to the secretary, it must be taken seriously. We are dealing with accounts that are three years old and there no response in writing to the AG office. It’s a very serious omission,” he said.

Nhemairo said the returns had since been submitted to the AGs office and blamed the delays on a malfunctioning accounting system and lack of capacity, although she failed to provide dates when the information was submitted.

Madzimure said the delay was a “serious” breach of the law.

The ministry was accused of failing to submit returns and aances on domestic and foreign travel, among others.

Funds amounting to $336,000, which were allocated for programmes, were spent under business services, management and acquisition of fixed capital projects.

“The auditor general said these misallocations were conducted deliberately. Auditors don’t use that kind of language lightly,” said Cross.

Source : New Zimbabwe