The parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has given an ultimatum to the Higher Education Council (HEC) to clean up its poor institution management issues recorded in the Auditor General (AG) for years.
The first series of online PAC hearings this year led by its new Chairman MP Valens Muhakwa, this September 16, took a turn when lawmakers couldn’t get an explanation for how bursary funds were disbursed without supporting documents, sometimes ending in the hands of officials and ‘ghost’ university students.
Parliament pinned HEC over failure to show supporting documents to funds transferred to the BRD bank accounts and several cases of misuse of budget money on unused electronic office equipment and a shocking case where the institution illegally paid allowances to officials.
For example HEC transferred close to Rwf10billion to BRD without a list of beneficiaries and details of supporting documents were not provided to the OAG at the time of audit and especially Rwf5.3billion for foreign students didn’t have any paperwork.
Former HEC boss, Emmanuel Muvunyi explained that this was caused by foreign student’s bursary beneficiaries delaying to submit their full details need in the financial report, however MPs wondered how HEC can disburse funds without justification either in soft or hard copy which was required as proof of evidence.
Shockingly Parliament also heard that HEC disbursed over Rwf40million to the University of Rwanda as fees for 16 non- school-going ‘university students’ including one of them who had died long ago.
Desire Gacinya, the HEC Director of Bursary/Loan and Fund Management, who has a team of two staff, said that they had some issues with coordinating reconciliation of funds with the other institutions and thus paid funds using projection of the previous school years.
However Ministry of Finance Chief Auditor, Alexis Muhire rejected this saying the reconciliation should not be a case of BRD but the high institution since it is the schools that know the daily data of students, living and dead, and who are in the program.
“BRD is a financial institution and its work is to pay, thus reconciliation is not their work but for HEC,” Muhire said.
HEC boss, Mukankomeje admitted to these shortfalls and stated that there has been a problem of reconciling the data bases due to lack of staff but the bigger plan is to set up a single bursary software system (MIS) which will collect all data in one spot and accessed by all institutions involved in the program.
In response, PAC Chair, MP Muhakwa said that “This should be the last time this issue appears in the HEC report and a clean report should be expected next year, and we want persons held accountable too,” Muhakwa reprimanded.
Among the financial mismanagement issues, parliament also heard that over Rwf5million was illegally paid to officials for fuel and car depreciation- which is not provided by law governing civil servants in Rwanda.
On this issue, PAC heard that so far Rwf500, 000 has been recovered from officials involved in the scandal, however PAC chairman gave two weeks deadline to HEC Director of Administration and Finance, Frank Bagabo to return the remaining Rwf4.5million without fail.
Parliamentarians also asked HEC officials to explain why they have failed to implement AG’s recommendations which have been continuously recorded in the Auditor General’s reports since 2016.
MP Jeanne d’Arc Uwimanimpaye, who was in charge of the hearing, asked why there is low compliance negligence of advice given in recommendations by parliament and OAG from 2016- 2019.
“Why is this so and why does HEC continue to have the lowest plus an adverse opinion, and an inclination to failure to implement the recommendations as proposed,” Uwimanimpaye asked and reprimanded HEC to respond.
HEC Executive Director, Rose Mukankomeje said that this could be best answered by her predecessor, Emmanuel Muvunyi and one can assist if need be.
Muvunyi, who had difficult explaining the question asked, said that there was no reason for not implementing the recommendation but there is a lot that improved including putting up a coordination team to run program efficiently among others.
However, after minutes of lawmakers insisting on direct answers in vain, PAC members recommended that HEC comes up with a proper plan to clean its AG’s opinion.