Mbabane: Five senior officers from the Ministry of Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Department of Meteorology and from the Climate Change Unit could soon find themselves in the dock on charges of fraud, corruption, nepotism and illegally awarding of contracts for a United Nations (UN) financed project worth about E48.6 million (US$2,796,400).
Names of these officers are deliberately undisclosed because they have not been officially charged and are said to be under investigation for possible involvement in fraudulently handling the project – Building Capacity to Advance National Adaptation Plan Process in Eswatini.
Notably, the impending fraudsters were those who formed the Evaluation Committee of the project – the GCF NAP Project. Two are from the Climate Change Unit, two from meteorology and one from the ministry.
This US$2.7 million Green Climate Fund (GCF) readiness project was implemented by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) since 2018. UNEP is responsible for coordinating the UN’s environmental activities and assisting developing countries in implementing environmentally sound policies and practices. Its activities include developing international environmental conventions; promoting environmental science and information; working with public and private stakeholders on developing and implementing policy; funding and implementing environmental development projects, such as reforestation and wetlands restoration; and formulating guidelines on issues such as the international trade in potentially harmful chemicals, transboundary air pollution, and contamination of international waterways. It also maintains a repository of scientific and environmental research.
In Eswatini, the GCF readiness project seeks to address barriers in the implementation of the NAP process by strengthening the institutional technical and financial capacity of Eswatini Government at national level to advance the NAP process, thereby facilitating Eswatini’s transition to climate-resilient development. Through close scrutiny of a highly classified report compiled by the National Focal Point of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) directed to Secretary to Cabinet Victor Nxumalo, which Independent News has seen, it was conspicuous that the alleged fraud was committed in the awarding of contracts to consultants which applied for the implementation of the GCF NAP Project.
According to the UN Climate Change Website, Eswatini’s National Focal Point is Constance Dlamini, who is Legal Advisor at the Ministry of Tourism and Environmental Affairs. However, Dlamini denied that she was the one who compiled the said report despite confirming that she is the National Focal Point as reflected in the UN website. The report which details the alleged fraud, corruption and nepotism was advising the Secretary to Cabinet to take action through involving the Eswatini Royal Police Fraud Unit to investigate the fraud that was allegedly committed in the project. The secretary to cabinet was further advised to also involve the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) to also carry its own investigation.
Implemented the project
According to the report, most of the suspected fraud and irregular activities were observed at the Meteorology Department and at the Climate Change Unit in connection to the awarding of contracts to the consultants that implemented the project.
Independent News has established that on around August 2019, The Meteorology Department published terms of reference on local newspapers seeking national consultant/s to support and development of the Eswatini’s National Adaptation Plan (NAP). It has been established that during the whole process from advertising to evaluation of the contracts there were anomalies identified by the National Focal Point. According to the report there are numerous anomalies identified include that the projects under the National Adaptation Plan (NAP) were designed to have project steering committees to oversee the tasks of the Climate Change Coordinator in the Climate Change Unit, however, for all the activities the steering committees were allegedly never engaged, side-lined and completely irregular activities that would have received endorsement of the committees were undertaken unilaterally by Shirley, one of the senior officers in the Climate Change Unit. Another anomaly identified in the report is that a series of contracts were awarded to consultants in a manner that deviates from procurement procedures of both United Nations and Eswatini Public Regulatory Agency (ESPPRA) and these contracts involved millions of Emalangeni.
According to the report, when Shirley was asked by the national focal point to furnish the procurement policies used, she is said to have furnished a long-expired policy that is not applicable to the current project. Evaluation During the evaluation processes, a senior official in the Meteorology Department, Daisy is alleged to have prepared and authenticated fraudulent evaluation reports reflecting officers that have not attended the evaluation exercises as having been present and scored tender documents.
For example, two senior officers from the ministry, Lossiah* and Betty* have been fraudulently included in six evaluation reports wherein they were never invited to be part of.
The report revealed that the UN has already received the reports as credible when in fact they were fraudulent. It is mentioned that the right consultants have not been awarded the contracts, while some are already doing tasks on verbal promise from the Coordinator.
The report further revealed an act of nepotism as the University of Eswatini Research Unit was misrepresented to have no capacity of physical scientist, whilst the tender was fraudulently awarded to the husband of the project coordinator.
Actually, the faculty was found to be the most qualified and has more than 20 lecturers holding PHDs with another team from external research institutions. This act was found to be contrary to the procurement procedures and the fraudulent aspect is frowned upon by the Financial Intelligent Unit of the GCF.
E2m Project handled by Form V school-leaver
The report by the Focal Point, interestingly revealed that some individuals were hired based on fraudulent qualifications and one of them is Finance Administrator, whose name is withheld for ethical reasons. The bogus finance administrator is alleged to have provided a fake Master’s Degree while initially she is a Form V school-leaver and currently pursuing her studies. The report went on to state that when the focal point enquired about the authenticity of the said financed administrator, she (bogus administrator) the officer was simply told to resign from the project instantly.
Senior Sources within the ministry told Independent News that that the ACC has launched an investigation of a budgetary proposal wherein the UN was made to believe that a considerable budget be used to procure the installation of 10 Weather Stations, while a full Italian/Eswatini project does the same activity. It is alleged that that was an attempt to engage double reporting of the sum of more than E15 million worth of an activity.
Reluctant to respond
The national focal point revealed that the Meteorology Department often refused to cooperate on crucial duties of the Focal Point. The GCF focal point is said to responsible for overall overseeing of the utilization of the GCF funds. When sought for comment, Director of the Department of Meteorology Duduzile Nhlengethwa-Masina was reluctant to respond to questions posed to her and was quick to refer them to the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism and Environmental Affairs John Hlophe.
The PS told this publication that he is currently waiting for a formal report from the Auditor General’s office who is currently investigating the matter. Hlophe told this publication that the matter is currently handled by the Auditor General Timothy Matsebula.
Matsebula confirmed knowledge of the matter, adding that his office has just launched an investigation which is still underway, and once complete, a report will be made public. Programme Communications and Advocacy Officer at UN, Sibusiso Mngadi could only confirm the project costs and referred questions to UNEP Regional Coordinator, Cecilia Njenga, UNEP Regional Programme Coordinator, for Southern Africa.
Efforts to get Njenga hit a snag. A message was sent to her Facebook Messenger, but could not reply by the time of compiling this report.
*Not their real names