Rwanda: Public Accounts Committe Grills public broadcaster Orinfor about its finances

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23 November 2011: The Parliamentary watchdog, Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Tuesday cross-examined top budget managers of state broadcaster, Orinfor, to explain the loss of public funds highlighted in the 2009/10 Auditor General's report. The grilling reveals the poor state of the public broadcaster’s finances.

Poor management of internally generated revenues, in addition to inappropriate procurement methods, are some of the public financial management regulations where they were accused of flouting.

A procurement officer said that part of the reason for the irregularity was that they lacked a procurement plan. Orinfor officials were quizzed on concerns adduced in the AG's report, including weaknesses in the preparation of regular financial statements.

The PAC Chairperson, Juvenal Nkusi, and his fellow committee members, prodded into why Orinfor is one of the institutions in which, the cashbook balances could not be properly reconciled to the bank statement. The Director of Administration and Finance (DAF), Alphonse Bizimana, was pinned for not adequately supervising the preparation of financial reports.

Bizimana acknowledged that they owe about Rwf 2.5 billion to the Rwanda Revenue Authority (RRA). "What we did was to approach RRA and discuss this by looking at what the law requires," Bizimana said, adding, "Some of our creditors too are paying us." The official however noted that through negotiations, some debts were waived.

But MP Jean d'Arc Uwimanimpaye, pointed out that Orinfor lacks proper debt collection mechanisms. "You don't have a list of people who owe you money. Right now, you cannot even clearly explain if the debts you have are real since in your books, nothing shows it. I want you to explain this." Uwimanimpaye said.

Bizimana initially said they had the list but it was not complete. But when pinned and asked to bring it the following day, he acknowledged mistakes and blamed the hitch on lack of capacity on new accounting systems.

Hon. Marie Claire Ingabire could not understand how they could blame their problems on ICT yet technology is here to ease work. She noted that while the broadcaster's officials often go to Parliament seeking support in securing government funds, they return with excuses such as lack of expertise, yet they lack accountability.

"Forget about that software excuse. Software takes what people feed into it. It does not replace a human being, and what he has and must do," Ingabire emphasized. "As chief Accountant, how do you help the accountants to rectify problems when they are identified? Do you really want to tell us that the software is the problem? Does it replace people?" she asked the DAF. Uwimanimpaye told Bizimana that he would rather declare that they have "incompetent staff." Lawmakers also questioned earlier remarks by Orinfor officials why they contracted a private consultant to do their books, yet they could do the work themselves.

Orinfor is cited in the list of institutions that used inappropriate procurement methods to award tenders. It is also among public institutions that inadequately applied single sourcing and request for quotations in procuring items without sufficient reasons and evaded competitive bidding. Further still, Orinfor is blamed for unauthorised expenditure, especially unauthorised staff benefits and salary advances.

Bonuses and other staff benefits like communication, transport and overtime allowances, amounting to over Rwf 256 million, were paid to ineligible staff members. The report says that a total of Rwf 188,431,734 was paid as a 20 per cent commission for each advertisement brought to ORINFOR by the staff.

The AG's report says there are cases where contractors and suppliers did not provide performance guarantees prior to signing contracts, contrary to existing public procurement procedures.

Nkusi, and other MPs advised them to own up, on an individual basis, especially regarding avoidable errors and weaknesses, and commit to do a better job in their respective departments.