For the past five years Auditor-General Mildred Chiri has been making damning reports about the way public funds are being misused by government ministries, State enterprises and parastatals.
by VENERANDA LANGA
In her latest report tabled before Parliament last month, Chiri noted that among many other anomalies, bad corporate governance and mismanagement led to the loss of US$180 million in public funds which cannot be properly accounted for.
She said Treasury made direct payments of about US$180 million on behalf of different ministries, but most payments were not supported by invoices and receipts from service providers.
At just one ministry, the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure Development, Chiri observed a free-for-all situation where the ministry’s telephones at head office were open to members of staff who spent hours making private calls, resulting in an astronomic $2 million telephone bill.
Webber Chinyadza, the former chairperson of the Public Accounts Parliamentary Portfolio Committee told The Standard on Friday that there was lack of political will to bring to book officials implicated in fraudulent activities.
“Nothing has been happening in terms of arrests and as a result, the same kind of problems previously reported by the Auditor-General in 2012 keep on being raised in 2015 where people are stealing public funds but are not sued or brought to trial,” Chinyadza said.
“The rot will continue until and unless the criminals are arrested. The major issue is that there is no political will and people continue to do whatever they want because nobody is doing anything about it.”
He said after Parliamentary committees and the media have exposed corruption as revealed by the audited accounts, the Police and Prosecutor-General were supposed to further investigate and arrest those implicated in misdemeanours.
Chinyadza said during his tenure as Public Accounts Committee chairperson, he did not recall any arrests of government and parastatal heads implicated in corruption.
“Non-action against those implicated has resulted in the accounting officers of ministries continuing with the same mistakes. Where the accounting general of a ministry was supposed to do certain things as recommended by the Auditor-General, they have not done so. What it means is that the auditor-general will continue churning out reports that stink of corruption,” he said.
Some of the serious misdemeanours that were revealed during Chinyadza’s tenure included a report on the Ministry of Health where a total of 13 506 bottles of different drugs expired in 2006, during a time when 11 hospitals and clinics experienced stock outs.
Chinyadza’s committee also worked on Zinara audit reports which revealed an abuse of funds for development of road networks. Only five out of 18 urban councils were said to have correctly used the road fund with the rest abusing the facility.
To date Zinara does not seem to have learnt anything from Chiri’s audit revelations as the 2014 audit further revealed government could have been prejudiced of $11 million when Zinara failed to deduct withholding tax from 23 suppliers.
Other audit reports submitted to Parliament showed leakages at Victoria Falls immigration offices, where money went missing after some officers acquired counterfeit date stamps.
Audited reports for the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) for the year ended March 31 2011 revealed anomalies where the parastatal could not verify values of 20 000 assets and 31 houses it owned.
The audit report showed that deposits amounting to over $1,2 million could not be reconciled from the GMB cash and bank balances.
Chiri then said failure by the GMB to justify the value of assets and houses under their property gave suspicion the board could have been deriving economic benefits from them.
Parliamentary practice the world over (especially in countries using the Westminster model) dictates that Public Accounts Committees be chaired by opposition MPs to ensure that government officials are thoroughly grilled on discrepancies.
In the early 1980s before Parliamentary reforms, the Public Accounts Committee in Zimbabwe used to sit with a police officer present so that they were able to pick up potentially criminal activities from the audit reports in order to carry out further investigations.
Currently, the Public Accounts Portfolio Committee is chaired by opposition MP Paurina Mpariwa (Mufakose MDC-T), and the committee that she chairs works with the Auditor-General whenever they are grilling public officials on issues arising from audited accounts.
Although most of the audited accounts have been recent (2014), the Auditor-General has often complained that ministries had weaknesses in submission of their books to her office on time.
Mpariwa on Friday told The Standard that the committee had to date tabled four reports before Parliament but they were frustrated by failure of the ministers whose parastatals were implicated in the reports to respond and show seriousness that they were taking action on the issues.
In one of the reports that the committee submitted in 2014, they recommended that seed houses and the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, as well as officers who were responsible for Operation Maguta, should release names of beneficiaries of the inputs and give details of the exact figures involved.
Last year the committee recommended change of management at the National Social Security Authority (NSSA) and appointment of a new board after NSSA lost millions of dollars in botched investments deals in 2011 and 2012.
“Government has not been showing seriousness in acting on these reports, there is very little movement. We have to date tabled four reports on audits, but even the ministers responsible have not bothered to respond to those reports. We feel that they are not taking the committee’s recommendations seriously,” Mpariwa said.
She said whenever the Public Accounts Committee and the Auditor-General’s office exposed corruption, the ministers or parastatal heads implicated were removed from that particular parastatal but given another portfolio.
“They are just recycled and the same mistakes recur. We have a Corporate Governance Framework that was crafted, but it is now four years and we have not seen any implementation. It should be domesticated and implemented so that we deal with some of the problems revealed by audit reports,” Mpariwa said.
In her 2014 Auditor-General reports, Chiri’s narrative on appropriation accounts and miscellaneous funds noted no improvement in administration of accounts by ministries, despite previous audit findings that warranted management’s attention.
“There was no improvement in the administration of appropriation accounts by ministries as 26 (96%) out of the 27 audited, had material audit findings warranting management’s attention as compared to 94% in 2013,” Chiri said.