MINISTRY of Finance has raised alarm after it emerged that officials were looting funds meant for COVID-19 relief.
BY BLESSED MHLANGA
Permanent secretary in the Ministry of Finance George Guvamatanga this week wrote to directors and other top ranking officials advising them that only sanctioned travel should be allowed to draw domestic allowances, while the rest should go to deserving people in the country’s COVID-19 response which had been sustained, largely by donors.
“Treasury has noted with concern an increase in payment runs requesting for funds for processing domestic allowances, narrated as COVID-19 payments for staff on duty during the lockdown period,” reads Guvamatanga’s circular dated April 28.
“As you are aware of pronouncement of lockdown throughout Statutory instrument 81 and 82 clearly called for mitigatory measures to prevent the spread of Coronavirus and involved limited or no movement across cities and towns and hence reduces domestic travel expenses.”
Guvamatanga said instead of government departments focusing on coronavirus interventions, they were now pushing more for allowances than delivering to the needy.
“However, line ministries are now prioritising payment of allowances despite the call by Treasury in its later dated March 20, requesting accounting officers to identify none wage savings from their respective votes to be ring fenced for coronavirus interventions,” he wrote.
Sources have disclosed to NewsDay that top government workers were taking the biggest part of funds allocated to coronavirus response in the form of travel and subsistence allowances while frontline health workers work go without risk allowances or personal protective equipment.
“You have those in higher offices, the principal directors, finance directors and their peers looting fuel, accommodation allowances as they crisis cross the country on errands that don’t even make sense, while those who are actually doing the work get nothing,” said a senior government official.
The official added that poorly paid top civil servants were beginning to feel the pinch owing to the closure of workshops, travel opportunities especially foreign trips which gave them access to huge allowances. They have now resorted to looking for opportunities in the coronavirus response.
“You would notice that government does not pay huge salaries even to your permanent secretaries and directors, however they have always had allowances when attending workshops and travel, this has all been put on Ice by coronavirus and for them to fill this gap they are now digging into the coronavirus budget,” said the source.
Government is struggling to buy protective clothing for doctors, even after a court order compelling it to do so.
Due to lack of resources, government has also left the purchase of critical items towards the fight against the virus such as test kits to donors.
Zimbabwe so far has 40 cases, but observers think the number is probably huger because of low testing levels. Zimbabwe has carried out just over 7 000 tests.