THE Ombudsman, Advocate Leshele Thoahlane KC, has accused the ministries of Finance and Public Service of manipulating the system and railroading unnamed “certain favoured people” into senior accounting positions.
Adv Thoahlane said this recently while presenting his findings and recommendations of the 2018 inquiry instituted after 20 accounting personnel filed a formal complaint with the Office of the Ombudsman on 16 April 2018.
Adv Thoahlane said high qualification standards of Chartered Accountant and Master’s Degree for the senior accounting officers’ positions set out in the Ministry of Finance’s restructuring programme went against the 2011 minimum requirements approved by the cabinet and was a clear indication that the positions were created for certain individuals.
The 20 accounting personnel approached the Ombudsman to challenge the Ministry of Finance’s decision to transfer them on 14 April 2018. They formally registered their complaints with the Ombudsman after the ministries of Finance and Public Service implemented a restructuring programme that was not approved by the cabinet.
Adv Thoahlane also wants the ministry to immediately put transfers of the 20 complainants on hold and that all positions where proper procedures were not followed should be re-advertised within three months of the release of his report.
“We were disappointed because we have picked some serious irregularities in the programme, there were many unclean issues in the programme if I may use a very mild word, they were unclean,” Said Adv Thoahlane.
“I say unclean in the sense that we ended up not knowing if implementing this programme was procedural or if yes, in what way?”
He said the upgrading standards in the ministry of finance’s accounting was a good initiative which was approved by the cabinet in 2011. He said he had no reason to disbelieve that the restructuring process was approved by the cabinet in 2011 with first degree and experience put forward as minimum qualification standards for senior accounting positions.
He however, said the change of minimum qualification requirements from first degree with experience to chartered accountant and master’s degree compromised the programme because there were no potential candidates, a clear indication that the standards were set too high.
“The question that comes to mind is was setting the standards high just a human error influenced by this thinking that there were people with such qualifications because when we looked it at, we saw it as a way of manipulating the system to maybe create positions for a selected few. This may not be true but we are saying this basing ourselves on the evidence that has been presented before us,” Adv Thoahlane said.
He was however, quick to state that he was not advocating for the minimum qualifications requirements to remain fixed to first degree but that the ministries should conduct a study to determine if there is a need for restructuring. He also said if there is such a need, the process should be done in a consultative and inclusive manner.
Adv Thoahlane said it was disturbing to learn that the restructuring process was effected with no baseline study to determine the shortfalls that would be brought about by the existing qualifications, how to address such shortfalls and how to incorporate the already existing personnel.
He recommended that the Ministry of Finance should conduct a study to determine if there is a need for restructuring and if there is such a need, the process should be done and should be constructive and inclusive of all interested parties.
He said the restructuring was biased because it focused more on graduates from the Center for Accounting Studies (CAS) with less consideration from other institutions.
The complaints’ main discontent with this implementation was with regard to the approach that was taken to fill senior positions in the new accounting structure approved by the cabinet in 2011. The approved structure considered first degree with experience as relevant for all positions.
The minimum requirements were however, changed to chartered accountant and master’s degree by the ministries of Finance and Public Service without the approval of the cabinet. The 20 complaints discovered that the job specifications approved by the cabinet had changed when the 2014 Circular No.6 advertised three posts for senior accounting officers.
“The complaints alleged they learnt later that those specifications were not approved by the cabinet. The complaints informed the ombudsman that they contacted the Accountants General to complain but in vain. The same went for the Principal Secretary and the Minister of Finance. They elevated their complaint to parliament; the deputy prime minister and other authorities and it was only then that their complaint was heard. The Principal Secretary (PS) Finance was instructed to conform to the approved specifications (first degree and experience as minimum qualifications,” he said.
The complainants told the Ombudsman that they submitted their applications for the senior positions and that the process went on until 2017 when the Accountant General’s Office informed them that funds that had been allocated for the posts had been cut and that only three posts would be filled.
As if this was not enough, the complainants were later informed that their substantive positions of financial controllers and senior accountants had been changed. The financial controller position was changed to that of finance officer, a development that did not sit well with the complainants.
“They were not happy with the change as they alleged that the responsibilities that all along had been vested in financial controllers were given to the positions of finance directors. They therefore felt they had to be paid acting allowance for the many years they had been doing the duties that were meant for the directors failing which, they said, they should be promoted automatically to the director positions because they were more experienced in the jobs designated to that post,” Adv Thoahlane said.