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Audit Office Must Have Teeth — Parly

THE parliamentary committee on public accounts has recommended to government to expeditiously reform the functions and operations of the Comptroller and Auditor-General’s office for it to become more effective in fighting corruption.

Tapiwa Mashakada, committee chairperson, on Tuesday presented to parliament the first report on the state of the office, and recommended the strengthening of its independence and autonomy.
The office is a public body established under the Constitution of Zimbabwe to carry out investigations and audits of public accounts.
“The committee came to the conclusion that although the constitution of Zimbabwe provides for the independence of the Comptroller and Auditor-General’s office, there is still more that needed to be done for the audit office to be able to realise such independence and supremacy in reality,” reads the report. “The existing regulatory framework needs to be revisited as a matter of urgency to include provisions that guarantee freedom of the audit office in matters of budget, employment and remuneration. There is also need to urgently address the accounting skill requirements in the Ministry of Finance as well as line ministries to ensure prudent financial management and control as well as to enhance transparency and accountability in the use of public funds and state property.”
Under the existing laws, the constitutional body does not form part of the public service despite the appointment of the Comptroller and Auditor-General by the president in consultation with the Public Service Commission.
The constitution and the Audit and Exchequer Act, which outlines functions of the office, according to the committee, do not give the auditor-general any “sanction powers to compel ministries and departments to observe and comply with treasury instructions and other regulations regarding submissions of returns”.
The report came a few weeks after Auditor-General Mildred Chiri released the first quarter audit exposing corruption in public offices.
The alleged cases of gross abuse of state resources have however not been investigated to date.
The parliamentary committee criticised the failure by government to prosecute cases of malpractices often raised by the audit office.
This, the report stated, impacted “negatively” on the ability of the audit office in producing annual reports as well as meeting statutory deadlines.
The audit office failed to produce annual reports between 2000 and 2005 after blaming government ministries for keeping a tight lid on public records.
Changes to the audit office were likely to see the office preventing haemorrhaging of state assets through graft.
“The committee feels that if the audit reports are to have desired impact, the enabling legislation should place an obligation upon the treasury and accounting officers whose accounts have been qualified to respond with a remedial action to the Comptroller and Auditor-General’s annual report,” the report read.
Meanwhile the Ministry of Finance intends to repeal the Audit and Exchequer Act and replace it with two Bills — the Audit Office, and Public Finance Management, which the committee said would address “some of the challenges” faced by the audit office.

 

Bernard Mpofu

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