EMBASSY SPENDS E2M ‘MISTAKENLY’ DEPOSITED IN ACCOUNT
Despite that government spends nearly E8 million per annum on Ethiopian Chancery rentals, Swaziland’s Ambassador to Ethiopia, Promise Msibi spent E2 million of E14 million deposited to the embassy’s account for purposes of building or purchasing office space.
The ambassador blames the ministry of finance for not explaining purpose of the millions while the ministry claims he requested the money for the purchase or construction of houses and chancery which has, to date, not been constructed nor purchased. Instead, part of the money had been used on operational expenses.
In a case reminiscent of South African Walter Sisulu University student, Sibongile Mani who found R14.1 million wrongly deposited in into her student account and spent over R800 000 on frivolous things, the ambassador told the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) he was equally surprised to find E14 million deposited into the embassy’s account.
In the case of the student the money was mistakenly deposited by the South African National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). It took more than two months for NSFAS accountants to realise they are missing R14.1 million which they only noticed after the friends of the student posted bank balance receipts on Facebook in August.
Coincidentally, as per the version of the ambassador, E14 million was ‘ mistakenly’ deposited i nto the embassy’s account by the ministry of finance and there was no explanation on what it was meant for. Msibi told the PAC that since there was no explanation; the embassy assumed the money was for office operations while denying that the embassy requested the funding. The ambassador told the PAC that the embassy started spending the money on operational costs of the mission right away and did not seek clarity on its purpose.
Out of the E14 million deposited on April 9 2016, by December 31 last year, the Auditor General (AG) found that the embassy had spent $ 150 075.28 which is approximately E1 950 075.
During a telephonic interview on Thursday with this publication, the ambassador maintained his position that the embassy was not aware of the purpose of the money.
When asked about his submission on the PAC report he said; “Yes, it is as explained in the report (PAC) they were no explanations but since there is a headquarters we can be seen contradicting it, please hold on for the accountant he will respond to all your questions.”
Contrary to the ambassador’s submissi on t he e mbassy’s Third Secretary/Accountant Vusi Magagula said the embassy was aware of the money citing that there were documents sent to it notifying them on the deposit of the E14 million.
“They had requested quotations of the houses being sold and the lowest was $15 million while the highest was $5million.
Worth noting is that the properties are very expensive mainly because they were meant for residential rentals not for office use,” Magagula explained.
He revealed that there were other means that they were exploring which would be economic such as securing land offered by the host country specifically for embassy.
He emphasised that the rentals were high and the need to purchase or build the offices which would cut the costs and added that the E14 million was far less than the average properties sale
In the report, the ministry of finance said the money was sent procedurally after a request from the embassy for the purposes of building or purchasing offices and houses.
The auditor general found that the ministry of foreign affairs and international cooperation relocated the sum of E14 million from the recurrent budget to finance a capital project, which was against government financial and accounting regulations. The money was reallocated from the national insurance provision and
the authority to do so was granted by the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Finance Bheki Bhembe.
The AG discovered that the money was transferred to the embassy under the pretext that they will be used to buy an office building yet the real purpose was to purchase diplomatic staff houses which were also not purchased.
The controlling officer in the ministry of foreign affairs and international cooperation acknowledged the anomaly and stated that his ministry has since taken remedial action for the recovery of the money.
The ministry also submitted to the PAC that the embassy was informed about the purpose of the money and also produced evidence supporting this fact. He further produced documented evidence proving that the embassy had indeed submitted a request for funding for the construction or purchase of houses and the chancery.
On the other hand Bhembe explained to the PAC that the money was released procedurally.
The PAC then observed that the embassy was in dire need to purchase the chancery as the rentals are high on the leased property and advised the PS to prepare a Cabinet Paper for the minister on the final resolution of house construction or purchasing or constructing the chancery.
Swaziland’s Ambassador to Ethiopia, Promise Msibi