The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has grilled officials from the Ministry of Infrastructure (Mininfra) over irregularities in the administration of the government’s zero fleet policy.
It was the first PAC hearing since the inauguration of the third Parliament last month.
The 2011/12 report by the Office of the Auditor General (OAG) shows that there was a lack of sound data base on zero fleet policy beneficiaries, which created challenges in recovery of money from beneficiaries of the government vehicle loan scheme.
Committee chairperson MP Juvénal Nkusi, and other MPs said they heard similar tales last year, and the year before.
Defending the ministry, new Permanent Secretary, Christian Rwakunda, explained that when the policy started in 2005, the scheme faced “many problems.”
Rwakunda, however, said the ministry knows everyone in the scheme but the difficulty was that whenever a beneficiary retires, or is fired, the ministry was not able to track down such a person.
Innocent Kabogoza, an official in charge of the project in the ministry, told MPs that the setback was addressed as the ministry has set up a focal point persons to track former officials benefited from the scheme.
“In the past, one of the big challenges was to do with leaders who changed jobs within the public service, or were sacked. Apart from those who would be fired by Cabinet, it was hard to get information about others and, that’s how we decided to have focal point persons in all public service levels,” Kabogoza said.
However, Nkusi asked: “Even last year, this is what you told us! What, really, have you improved on this time?”
Kabogoza said that, previously, the ministry could only know the whereabouts of only 40 per cent of those who moved to other posts or were sacked. With the focal point team, he said, they can now monitor 60 per cent of those who exit.
The weak management of the zero fleet contracts is an issue that can be well handled through improved inter-agency cooperation and commitment by the Ministry of Infrastructure, MP Théoneste Karenzi said.
MP Theogène Munyangeyo told the PS to always ensure that whenever a problem arises, he always moves fast, and set up a team to iron out issues before it gets worse.
“Let there be a special team to monitor these things,” Munyangeyo said.
MP Médiatrice Izabiriza advised that the ministry should coordinate with institutions where scheme beneficiaries are employed.
Rwakunda said the lawmakers’ advice would be considered to ‘improve things’ and that next year, “we shall show you that there are no problems in the zero fleet policy.”
Auditor General Obadiah Biraro yesterday advised that officials in the ministry commit to reversing the trend.
3,000 beneficiaries to date.
“Mininfra has still not implemented 27 per cent of our recommendations,” Biraro said in reference to past recommendations by his office to the ministry.
To date, the scheme has nearly 3,000 beneficiaries.
Kabogoza, said lists were compiled and announcements issued calling upon beneficiaries to repay. Some nearly 40 beneficiaries were referred to police so that it may help in the loan recovery process, he said.
Up to last month, he said, slightly over one billion Rwandan francs was repaid by those who voluntarily committed to paying back.
“The challenge is that we don’t know when people leave their positions,” Kabogoza said.
To ease follow up on loan recovery, the cabinet in June changed the process and beneficiaries no longer get loans directly from the government but must deal directly with banks which facilitate the process.
Cabinet ministers are facilitated to get a loan amounting to Rwf25 million, MPs and permanent secretaries and others in the same category get Rwf18 million, while directors general get Rwf10 million.
The vehicles are imported tax free.
By early 2006, the government had earned just over four billion Rwandan francs from the sale of 1,048 vehicles previously belonging to the state and belonging to senior government officials.
During the first phase of the sale, the year before, over Rwf3 billion was raised from 482 vehicles but even then, the AG’s reports indicated that irregularities in the sale procedures could have caused losses.
Last year, Mininfra officials indicated that the government had saved nearly Rwf18 billion since 2005 as a result of the zero fleet policy.
A 2008 study by UK consultants indicated that the government was saving over Rwf2.5 billion, every 12 months, since 2005.
Like the previous reports, the AG’s 2011/12 report highlights various concerns in the public finance management.
Use of inappropriate procurement methods in award of tenders, weaknesses in management of fixed assets in public entities, and tenders awarded without complying with existing public procurement procedures are some of the problems highlighted in the ministry and its affiliate bodies such as the Rwanda Cooperative Agency (RCA), Rwanda Housing Authority (RHA) and the Rwanda Transport Development Agency (RTDA).
Infrastructure officials appear before PAC as hearings begin