NetOne Mishandled COVID-19 Funds – Auditor General
8 August 2021Government-owned telecommunications company, NetOne, allegedly mishandled the distribution of funds worth more than US$1 million that were meant to cushion vulnerable people against a Covid-19 lockdown. This was revealed in the latest report by the Office of the Auditor General (OAG) titled Special Audit Report of the Auditor General on the Covid-19 Pandemic Financial Management and Utilisation of Public Resources” which was tabled before parliament on Tuesday, 2 August 2021.
NetOne was formed in 1996 as a subsidiary of the Posts and Telecommunications Corporation (PTC) which was in 2000 unbundled into NetOne, Zimpost and TelOne.
The OAG report that covered six of Zimbabwe’s 10 provinces says 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. Notes the report:
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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.
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.
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. The OAG, however, observed that:
- 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 had the same identity numbers but different gender and dates of birth.
- There were irregularities in the SIM cards that NetOne issued to purported beneficiaries.
- 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 the Buhera District Social Welfare office.
- This was due to incorrect contact details such as the addresses on the database.
- 88 Buhera district beneficiaries had their Covid-19 allowances amounting to $26, 400 (US$305) collected by third parties without written authorization from the beneficiaries.
- This was in violation of Section 59 (10) of the Public Finance Management (Treasury Instructions) 2019, which requires collections by third parties to be supported by a proper authority that should be attached to the payment voucher.
- 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 to.
- Intended beneficiaries could have been deprived of the assistance as a result.
The audit is in resonance with findings from an investigation that was produced by Information for Development Trust (IDT), jointly working with The Standard.
IDT and The Standard observed 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 observed that politically connected people, an MP, business people considered close to the first lady, Auxillia Mnangagwa, civil servants like teachers, nurses as well as war veterans, are benefiting from separate social schemes.
The government subsequently cleaned up the list and removed the underserving citizens.