PARLIAMENT- The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is calling for a forensic audit to be undertaken on the payment of court awards after the officials of Ministries of Finance and Justice were accused of conniving to swindle Government funds.
The call was contained in the report of the Public Accounts Committee done on Central Government on the report of the Auditor General for 2014/2015 that has been lined up for presentation on the floor of Parliament when plenary expected to kick off today.
The Auditor General noted that Shs114,037,786,253 was paid out from treasury operations to various beneficiaries in respect of court awards and compensations, however, the Auditor General noted that the court orders enforced against the Government over were not recognised as payable at the time, yet there had been evidence that Government had future obligation to settle.
Additionally, some of the payments to a tune of Shs53,381,086,654 were made by the Ministry as mandamus yet these were not supported by a Writ of Mandamus served on the Secretary to Treasury.
When tasked to explain the payment, the Ministry of Finance tabled documents but upon review, the documentation availed indicated that the claims upon which the payments were made, were supported by other documents other than writ of mandamus.
“Accordingly, these payments could have been paid from the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs where they were budgeted for as per their mandate, since they do not come a direct charge to the Consolidated Fund,” the report read in part.
Keith Muhakanizi, Secretary to Treasury defended the payment arguing that he had obtained a legal opinion from the attorney General and further stating that it was lawful for the secretary to treasury to make such payments from treasury operations.
In their observations to Parliament, PAC Maintained that effecting payments without a writ of mandamus issued against the Secretary to Treasury was irregular and further questioned Muhakanizi’s intention to make payment of this particular court award among other court awards without a writ of mandamus.
The report warned that Government risks making a double payment (by Ministry of Finance and
Ministry of Justice) and called on the Inspector General of Government (IGG) should investigate the irregularities in mandamus payments with a view to prosecute Muhakanizi.
PAC also wants the secretary to treasury to set up a robust system of payment of court awards that ensures fairness and transparency.
At the time of audit, the Auditors raised concerns over the unsustainable Payment of Mandamus having seen these increase from Shs88Bn in the previous year to Shs114bn warning that the increment of may not be sustainable without negatively impacting on other government programmes.
While interfacing with the Committee, Muhakanizi acknowledged the challenge stating that the Ministry is aware of the unsustainability of mandamus payments and is making efforts armed at having this matter contained, through increasing the budget of Ministry of Justice particularly facilitation of state Attorneys.
The Committee noted that the astronomical increment of court awards points to grave weaknesses in management of court cases; incompetence and connivance between the plaintiffs, defendants and the Accounting Officer.
Now, PAC wants the Ministry of Justice to ensure that court awards are minimised through effective and efficient management of court cases.
Yet still, the Committee wants the Attorney General to be held accountable for poor management of court cases.
The report is set to be tabled before Parliament for a debate and MPs takes a position on the Committee findings.