Education Ministry an Exception

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By Mbatjiua Ngavirue Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education Vitalis Ankama can afford to smile because he was yesterday able to tell President Hifikepunye Pohamba that subsistence and travel allowances at his ministry are fully accounted for. He is however probably only one of few permanent secretaries that can make this claim, making his ministry an exception to the rule in government as a whole. When delivering his New Year message to permanent secretaries and their deputies yesterday, President Pohamba unexpectedly diverged from his speech. The President sternly asked the permanent secretaries about media reports this week that government had squandered N$20.8 million in subsistence and travel allowances that ministries have not accounted for. The gathered public service bosses appeared taken aback when the President asked them whether they disputed the reports. Some of the permanent secretaries looked distinctly uncomfortable – obviously hoping the President’s gaze would not fall on them. They must have breathed a quiet sigh of relief when the question fell to Ankama to answer rather than to one of them. Ankama was in the fortunate position of being able to inform President Pohamba that the Ministry of Education is not one of the offenders. As someone who knows what is happening across government as a whole however, Secretary to Cabinet Frans Kapofi said he did not dispute the reports about the loss of N$20.8 million. Only a day earlier, the Ministry of Education received praise from the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts for its management of S&T allowances, having under-spent its allocation by N$8 252 in 2004/2005. The ministry has by all accounts been very successful in recovering amounts owed by employees for S&T, unlike most other ministries. By 2005, there was only N$26 500 in old S&T that was not accounted – an amount not large enough to warrant mention by Auditor-General Junius Kandjeke in his audit report. The Ministry of Education subsequently wrote this amount off and its books have remained clean ever since. This unusual achievement prompted Public Accounts committee member Jurie Viljoen (MAG) to ask what magic recipe the ministry used, hoping that other ministries can emulate Education. Financial Advisor to the Ministry Gerhard Beyleveld explained that the ministry implemented a new system for managing S&T in 2004/2005. In the past it often happened that when ministry employees received an S&T advance they later did not bother to submit claims to account for the expenditure. Under the new system, employees submit a post-dated claim at the same time they receive the advance. If the trip turns out to be shorter than what they indicated in the claim, they have to refund the ministry. Ironically, the introduction of the new Integrated Financial Management System (IFMS) may mean the Ministry of Education may have to abandon this system, which has so far worked very well. IFMS, which all government ministries have now implemented apparently, does not allow for post-dated claims.