The struggling government-owned telecommunications company, NetOne, bungled the distribution of funds worth more than US$1 million that were meant to cushion vulnerable people against a Covid-19 lockdown, according to the latest report by the Office of the Auditor General (OAG).
NetOne is a state-owned entity, which was formed in 1996 as a subsidiary of the Posts and Telecommunications Corporation (PTC).
The PTC was in 2000 unbundled into NetOne, Zimpost and TelOne.
The report titled Special Audit Report of the Auditor General on the Covid-19 Pandemic Financial Management and Utilisation of Public Resources” was tabled before parliament on Tuesday, 2 August 2021.
A total of ZW$89 022 103 (US$ 1. 047 million) was disbursed through NetOne’s mobile money facility, One Money, between 19 May and 12 December 2020, according to the OAG report that covered six of Zimbabwe’s 10 provinces.
“No reconciliations were done with the mobile money service provider to confirm whether all the payments reached the intended beneficiaries as there were instances where the mobile money service provider issued two (2) different Net One lines to the same individual,” notes the report.
Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs), food-insecure households not supported by donors, people with disabilities, the elderly, chronically ill persons and child headed households were the targeted beneficiaries.
However, said the OAG, NetOne used an unreliable beneficiary database that resulted in the abuse of funds, adding that, in some cases, individuals received multiple transfers against government policy.
Other beneficiaries, the audit discovered, had the same identity numbers but different gender and dates of birth.
“There was processing of payments to beneficiaries with fictitious identity numbers and suspicious names (as well as) incorrect and insufficient contact addresses. There was also use of similar contact addresses for beneficiaries in districts.
“No follow-up mechanism was developed to verify existence of the beneficiaries and whether the allowances had reached the intended beneficiaries,” wrote Mildred Chiri, the auditor general
The OAG also discovered irregularities in the SIM cards that NetOne issued to purported beneficiaries.
In some instances, NetOne issued call lines to beneficiaries but failed to upload the allowances while some batches of SIM cards were sent to wrong districts or provinces, “resulting in non-collection of the allowances by intended beneficiaries.”
“A total of $201, 900 Covid-19 allowances processed in July 2020 for 673 beneficiaries at $300 each had not been collected from Buhera District Social Welfare office. This was caused by incorrect contact details such as the addresses on the database,” read the OAG report.
The AG also noted that third parties collected money on behalf of the registered recipients.
“(Eighty-eight) Buhera district beneficiaries had their Covid-19 allowances amounting to $26, 400 (US$305) was collected by third parties without written authority from the beneficiaries. This was contrary to the provisions of Section 59 (10) of the Public Finance Management (Treasury Instructions) 2019, which requires collections by third parties to be supported by proper authority which should be attached to the payment voucher,” observed the report.
It added that she could not verify if the intended beneficiaries subsequently received the money.
“The lack of validation, integration and sharing of data and outdated or incorrect information across Government platforms resulted in some beneficiaries, including Government officials, receiving COVID19 relief disbursements they might not have been entitled. This defeated the purpose for which the disbursements were made as the intended beneficiaries could have been deprived of the assistance,” added the report.
The audit confirms findings from an investigation that was produced by Information for Development Trust (IDT), jointly working with The Standard and established in early April 2020 that NetOne had been imposed by the government to distribute money meant for the needy even though a rival firm, Econet Wireless Zimbabwe, was more popular with subscribers.
In the second investigation, it was revealed that politically connected people—a lawmaker included—were stuffed onto the list of intended beneficiaries in the Midlands province.
They also included business people considered close to the first lady, Auxillia Mnangagwa, civil servants like teachers, nurses as well as war veterans who are benefiting from separate social schemes.
The government subsequently cleaned up the list and removed the underserving citizens.