Sunday 2021-06-13

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IT’S ‘KWAMAZITAPELE’ AT TOURISM AUTHORITY

By Ackel Zwane | 2021-05-08

Even the chief executive officer could not miss out while his subordinates helped themselves to interest and collateral free loans, courtesy of free for all financial controls at the Tourism Authority.

 As if that was not enough, the chief financial officer and the accountant joined the loans spree and also helped themselves.  The compliance audit report shows that the staff loans also included unauthorised advances without even a mechanism to recover these huge monies that were budgeted for the parastatal to deliver on its mandate and not on the mandate of its officials. “The authority offered large interest free loans with no limit, at no interest and with no specified period of repayment.” The report reveals further that funds requested for specific projects from government were diverted to the staff loans. There was no security over these loans, as such the authority was exposed to financial loss, as the employees were exiting the authority without settling the outstanding loans.

Surely the finances of the authority could not have been managed by people innocent of the knowledge of accounting standards. In fact it was manned by professionals who underwent interviews and passed and therefore the looting of State funds with such impunity should not go unpunished. Government must channel such processes via the courts and also put in place recovery plans for the huge amount of money. It is surprising that it took government so long to realise that its monies were being fleeced from the parastatal despite that government has its own financial watchdog in the institution of board of directors and the Public Enterprise Unit.

Glaringly an external auditor had  to abandon his work and was terminated all because he had found out about the unpaid huge staff loans including such moneys being owed by the executive. All this happened in 2016 when the auditor was kicked out in order to give way for the preparation of fictitious financials. “After the unconcluded 2016 audit report and un-communicated termination of the audit engagement with the duly appointed auditor, management of Eswatini Tourism Authority produced fictitious audit reports and presented them to the board of directors, PEU and the tourism minister.”

A reduction of a staggering E4m in cash and cash equivalents for the year ending March 31, 2020 could not be explained by the controlling officer and the chief executive. It is also disturbing to note that Eswatini Tourism Authority has been audited by the same auditors 12 years running, much against international standards on auditing and the PEU requirement of a three year period.

For a very long time these audit firms and or consultants have been offering services to the same parastatals over many years and Eswatini Tourism Authority and Kobla Quashie and Associates may not be the only culprits. Government must, with immediate effect, begin an audit to check the compliance by government departments and the audit firms in order to root out the rot. It is clear that some of the consultants have been offering services to the parastatals after long established relationships in order to cushion any wrongdoing as it would be the case with Eswatini Tourism Authority.

 I know one parastatal in the broadcasting sector that has had one auditor for 10 years and this audit firm has been given the responsibility to shortlist a chief executive, what conflict of interest! This is because the audit firm has been doing internal audit services for the parastatal and now it is being tasked with short listing the executive officer, watch this space! Once the chief executive officer has been shortlisted and appointment he or she will be indebted to the audit or consultancy firm that shortlisted him or her in that she or he must now make sure that for the duration of his or her contract she must keep jobs or tenders flowing to the firm or else there would be no renewal of the contract.

Transparent

 This is rather common among parastatals and or municipalities that keep churning the same consultancy firms and not taking the competitive route of inviting or being transparent with bids. Back to Eswatini Tourism Authority; “significant withdrawals were noted, from the Call Account at Nedbank there is E4 658 419 in 2019 and E217 790 in 2018. The authority has been audited by Kobla Quashie and Associates for a consecutive period of 12 years, since the financial years ended March 31, 2009 to 31 March 2020.”

The compliance audit report also makes unsavoury findings about Kobla Quashie and Associates. “There were fraudulent financial statements for the year ended 31 March 2016 with no letterheads of and not signed by the duly appointed auditor (Kobla Quashie and Associates), which was received on the 15 April 2021, it is said the copies were totally different from the financial statements that the auditor had received on 9 August, 2016 for the same financial period. This indicates that the financial statements of the Eswatini Tourism Authority submitted to PEU over the five years, from the year 2016 to 2020, were not authentic.”

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