Embassy Bank Accounts Queried

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By Mbatjiua Ngavirue WINDHOEK The Ministry of Foreign Affairs had a relatively smooth passage through the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) review of the Auditor-General’s report on its 2004/2005 expenditure. The ministry came in for some criticism for the manner in which the government opened Namibia’s new embassy in Brazil. “What is strange to us is that when Cabinet approves the opening of a new embassy, they don’t approve the necessary funding at the same time,” Committee chairperson, Johann de Waal, said. Veiccoh Nghiwete, Permanent Secretary at Foreign Affairs, told the committee that the Ministry of Finance only gave Foreign Affairs written budget approval for the Brazilian Embassy a few weeks ago. De Waal suggested Scopa should make a recommendation to Parliament to prevent future embassy openings before a budget is approved. The committee was also unhappy about the inability of the ministry to reconcile bank accounts at the various foreign embassies. Nghiwete tried to explain that the problem resulted from the fact that the various embassies use different exchange rates. In addition, each embassy operates two separate bank accounts, one in the local currency of the country, and the other in US dollars. It was difficult to reconcile bank accounts because embassies use prevailing local exchange rates when converting currency, while the Bank of Namibia uses another exchange rate. De Waal appealed for more coordination, and asked that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs assign at least one person dedicated to reconciling embassy bank accounts. With regard to subsistence and travel allowances, Nghiwete said: “I’m very strict on this.” The ministry was not only taking action now, but had written letters to employees concerning outstanding S&T claims since 2001. “We have not lost a single cent – not even from those who have left the ministry. To cut a long story short, we have a zero balance on the S&T account,” said Nghiwete. De Waal said that if that was really the case, he wanted to congratulate Foreign Affairs, because it would be one of the first ministries to collect all outstanding amounts. Unauthorized expenditure was a relatively modest N$4.49 million on a total budget of just over N$189 million, giving Scopa little cause for complaint. The committee was, however, not happy about the ministry exceeding its N$63 million tender board exemption by N$18 million, bringing the total to N$81 million. Koneka Mayumbelo, senior accountant at the ministry, tried to argue that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has blanket exemption from Tender Board regulations for overseas missions. This idea was quickly shot down by De Waal, who pointed out that the exemption did not include overspending the budget limit.