THE Communications, Science and Technology has been given a 21-day ultimatum by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to put its house in order and produce hard evidence in connection with all their major projects, including the Lesotho Government Data Network that gobbled a whopping M17 million which was never budgeted for.
The Auditor General, Lucy Liphafa, noted in her 2014 report that the ministry had blown its allocated budget by M16 563 929 and on Tuesday the ministry told the PAC that the money was used to pay all ministries’ software licenses after the government ordered that the ministry must be responsible for purchasing and renewing all government software licenses.
The ministry’s deputy Principal Secretary (PS), Matšeliso Phafoli, said cabinet decided that the ministry must be responsible for the payments for all government software licenses in the middle of a financial year, forcing the ministry to overspend by M16 563 929.
Ms Phafoli said the software licenses fall under the ministry’s Lesotho Government Data Network.
“The government, through a cabinet decision, advised itself that all its software licenses must be paid for by the ministry of Communications and at that time, we had only budgeted for our software licenses, instead of those of the rest of the ministries and therefore there was a shortfall of M21 million on the budgeted item,” Ms Phafoli said.
“We were then advised by the ministry of Finance to ask for more money and after the approval, we spent the M16 million out of the approved budget of M21 million,” Ms Phafoli said.
She said that despite the cabinet decision that her ministry must be responsible for the software licenses, the individual ministries continued to enter into contracts with service providers, leaving communications ministry’s budget under distress as those new contracts were not budgeted for.
She said that despite the individual ministries entering into contracts with separate service providers, communications was still expected to pay for the licenses to Microsoft. Ms Phafoli said that the Microsoft system was so advanced that it could tell if machines were not legally connected to the software accessed such services.
She said that they were charged M14 million for illegal connections by the civil servants connecting their laptops to the software.
“The contract we have with Microsoft is that there are certain number of machines connected on the systems and they charge us based on that. However, their systems is such that they can tell if an extra machine is connected to the system and for that, they charge us for each illegal connection. We were charged M14 million for illegal connections by civil servants who used their laptops to connect to the systems,” Ms Phafoli said.
She added that they are still responsible for the payments of all government software licenses.
Ms Phafoli however, said that due government processes were not followed when cabinet decided to decentralised the Lesotho Government Data Network.
On her part, Principal Secretary ‘Mabotle Damane said the new Lesotho Broadcasting Service Complex project has failed to take off after the Ministry of Public Works and Transport failed to assist them with the designs of such office complex.
The ministry had been allocated M5 million for the design of the Lesotho Broadcasting Service Complex and up to date, the building has not been designed and there are suspicions that the National Assembly will not allocate such money in the next financial year.
“We have already demolished the old buildings and we don’t have the funds to continue with the project. Public Works played hide and seek with us and failed to design the complex despite the fact that we were allocated M5 million for the designs,” Ms Damane said, adding that the ministry of development planning has since intervened.
She said that they were demotivated after hearing that parliament is not going to allocate them the money for the project.
When asked why they asked for the money for the new building without a building designs, DPS Phafoli said they consulted with the Public Works and Transport Ministry before requesting for the funds. She said that the Public Works failed to come up with the designs despite the fact that the figure was put forward by the same ministry responsible for all public works.
“They are now telling us that they don’t have the capacity to design the studios that we want. The Ministry of Planning has since stepped in and is trying to help resolve the matter,” Ms Phafoli said.
Acting PAC chairperson, Nyapane Kaya, said that the Tuesday meeting was not beneficial for the committee’s investigations because “Communications, there has been practically nothing in terms of information that we requested from you”.
“You wasted the time and energy that we could have used to do something useful for this country. The irony is that the PS informed this committee that they were informed of this meeting a long time ago and there has been couple of postponements but still, you have no hard evidence to back up your case.
“You were just eager to appear before us and go back to your usual business, not to assist us with hard evidence. We are giving you 21 days to bring all the documents in relation to all your projects; details of how much each project costs and how much has been spent so far; timeframes for each projects; progress of each project and details of each loans in terms of reasons for applying for such loans,” Mr Kaya said.
He said public servants were holding Lesotho at ransom by applying for external loans that are never used on time; forcing tax payers to pay commitment fees and interests for monies that are not being used for unknown reasons.