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Faulty P1 billion Student Fund irks PAC

Publishing Date : 10 April, 2018

Author : ALFRED MASOKOLA

Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has accused the Ministry of Education and Skills Development (now Ministry of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology) of neglecting the FNBB held Students Allowance Disbursements Account, which involves the use of over P1 billion annually.


In its latest report, for 2015-2016 accounts, the PAC indicates that there is evidence that despite the large sums of money involved, there was no follow up on the part of the ministry officials to ensure that the monthly remittances to the bank are fully accounted for through periodic returns by the bank and reconciliations of those returns.


Government sponsored students in local tertiary institutions are paid their stipends through FNBB, one of the country’s leading commercial banks.  The procedure is that the funds are advanced to the bank monthly on the basis that after disbursements, the bank would submit a return of how the funds had been disbursed on a monthly basis.


“There we clear indications that the Accounting Officer had lost control of these accounts. For example, as at 31st March 2016, the account for these transactions had a balance of P1 122 852 010 and another related had a balance of P1 099 078 632, for which there were no explanations from the Accounting Officer,” states the report.


“The Committee was concerned that the Accounting Officer had not paid proper attention to this important matter until it was brought up to the committee. When Accounting Officers fail to apply themselves to these matters, there is always a risk that public funds may be lost without trace or detection.” The PAC recommended that the Accounting Officer must ensure that the account is reconciled and be brought to up to date, and periodic reconciliations should be carried out henceforth.


In the past, the Department of Tertiary Education Financing (DTEF) has been marred by controversy, after some officials were ensnared in deceitful scheme to rob government money through creation of ghost students. It was discovered that government have been losing millions of pula to non-existent students.


STUDENT ADVANCE LOAN SCHEME

The PAC report also touches on the Student Advance Loach Scheme which the Ministry of Education has over the years failed to reconcile its outstanding balances.  This is an account which recorded advances made to students who were sponsored by Government to tertiaries in South Africa. The advances were to enable the students to buy computers and pay rental deposits. According to the report, since 2008, the balance in the account has been steadily increasing; from P1 068 601 in 2008 to P3 540 383 in 2016.


“The Accounting Officer had informed the PAC that it is a challenge to reconcile these balances due to the difficulty in locating source documents. It was also said that some of the loans were paid, but due to separate names which were used, the amounts could not be matched to cancel each other out,” indicates the PAC report. “The committee was also informed that the loans were captured using names of companies which were providing the services, whereas payments were made using the students’ names.”


The PAC noted its acknowledgement of the difficulty in locating the source evidence to reconcile the balances but noted its concern that the balances in question are steadily increasing yearly, which means that new cases are not being attended to whilst evidence can easily be located. The committee registered a concern that with the passage of time even the new balances would also become irreconcilable, and even where it has been proven that indeed certain individuals do owe government, those individuals may not be located by then.


The PAC recommended that the Ministry should expedite the process of linking those accounts for outstanding loans and recoveries to correct the books of accounts so they can give a true picture of the liability to Government. The PAC chaired by opposition legislator, Abram Kesupile is a parliamentary committee that scrutinises the value for money—the economy, efficiency and effectiveness—of public spending and generally holds the government and its civil servants to account for the delivery of public services.


Other members of the committee members include; Ndaba Gaolathe (Gaborone Bonnington South), Samson Guma (Tati East),  Bogolo Kenewendo (Specially Elected), Konstantinos Markus (Maun East), Mephato Reatile (Specially Elected), Dithapelo Keorapetse (Selebe Phikwe West), Ignatius Moswaane (Francistown West), Polson Majaga (Nata-Gweta), and Shawn Ntlhaile (Jwaneng-Mabutsane).

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