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Sunday 24 March 2019
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How S&T drained state coffers

 
Details on how Government spent over N$2.3 billion on subsistence and travelling allowances (S&T) since 2013 have given the nation a glimpse into possible factors that could have led to the current financial calamity the country finds itself in.
 
During that period, there was a clear lack of stringent cost-containment measures, with ministries and state agencies spending vast amounts of money on consultants, travel, catering and entertainment despite repeated caution from the auditor general in his audit reports about wasteful expenditure.
 
Auditor General Junias Kandjeke’s reports into the financial affairs of public entities have never been enforced, with most reports often tabled in the National Assembly without lawmakers perusing them.
Figures contained in the annual estimates of revenue, income and expenditure indicate that travel claims by civil servants were estimated at N$860 million in the current financial year 2016/17.
 
By last year, the S&T bill for the civil service increased from an estimated N$590 million in 2014 to N$760 million, while N$388 million was budgeted for in the 2011/2012 budget and then Prime Minister Nahas Angula cautioned the civil service and SOEs that the country had to be very cautious about the pennies spent.
Thus, within a matter of just more than two years the S&T budget for the nation more than doubled.
 
Despite an S&T policy being in place, civil servants have been accused of abusing the rules by creating travel activities outside their offices on the ticket that they want to go and work.
What added fuel to the S&T fire, a local English daily wrote, is that the approval of trips is at the discretion of the different ministries’ management. ‘Different supervisors approve trips differently.’
Politicians in Government have always pushed for the approval of trips to be determined by the service officials intended to deliver outside the office and that there should be a balance between the S&T paid and the nature of the trip undertaken.
 
Permanent secretaries have also been tasked to ensure that their ministerial S&T bill is kept under control.
“Permanent secretaries play an important role in ensuring that these items do not continue to take up too much of the offices, ministries and agencies’ budgets, as this crowds out investment in infrastructure and service delivery,” Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila told permanent secretaries last year.
She further said some public servants had developed an entitlement syndrome, whereby they feel entitled to go on trips in order to get S&T, while some work overtime but there is no clear outcome from the extra time spent. “Some people even get angry when they do not go on trips,” she noted at the time.
S&T and overtime claims are said to be some of the many ways used by civil servants to milk government of hundreds of millions of dollars yearly, with some officials’ claims even surpassing their monthly salaries.
 
But it is not only the public service that abused the policy.
In a case that came to the attention of the Anti-Corruption Commission in 2014, it was stated that an official of the Ministry of Wildlife and Tourism, former acting permanent secretary in the Ministry, Erica Akuenje received a cheque of N$35 111 from the Namibia Tourism Board (NTB) in 2010, as S&T for a two-week excursion to Europe to attend the World Travel Market Trade Fair.
At the same time, after returning home, she allegedly also claimed S&T from the Ministry of Environment and Tourism.
 
The person was on record saying that close to N$50 000 in S&T payments for a 14-day trip was not unusual. “That’s nothing,” she is alleged to have stated.
 
The regional councils, too, are part and parcel of this greed and the //Karas council faces challenges for the rest of the current financial year after it emerged that councillors had, within a space of six months, used up almost all the subsistence and travel allowance budgeted for the whole financial year.
 
It was reported that councillors from seven constituencies have already used N$625 336 for the year to date and are left with a mere N$44 524 to fund their travel expenses until next April.
Paulus Noa, Director of the Anti-Corruption Commission, explained to the media that S&T abuse can take many forms.
“What normally happens is that somebody claims S&T, only to find that the person did not undertake the trip to the said destination. In other cases, somebody might put in a claim for a workshop or conference which they have made up or created, so that they get an allowance for something that in fact does not exist. Or the person goes on the trip, but returns earlier than the set period and does not declare this on the claim documents,” he says.
Noa added that the ACC has also received complaints about officials undertaking multiple trips for events that do not even fall under their scope, or hoarding travel functions such that others do not benefit.
 
Additional examples of S&T abuse that have been cited by other reliable sources, include officials sleeping in their (Government) vehicles in order to avoid using their allowance for accommodation; sharing hotel rooms on trips abroad with the intention of saving up on foreign currency so that they can use their taxpayer-covered food allowances to buy expensive gifts for their partners/families at home, or to save up on foreign currency to pay off their cars and homes in Namibia.
 
S&T payments are based on fixed amount per day according to an S&T rate policy for different levels and destinations, set by the Public Service Commission. Officials therefore are not accountable for the actual spending, as receipts do not have to be submitted.
In the recent mid-term budget, the minister of finance, Calle Schlettwein, pruned expenditure drastically to save over N$5.5 billion from the current budget and the seemingly willful abuse of the allowance begs the question of whether the funds allocated to ministries and allocated by SOEs could not have been utilised more productively in other sectors of the community for the common good.



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