Saturday, April 14, 2007
Saturday April 14, 2007 [04:00]
Revelations coming from the Public Accounts Committee of the failure by government’s controlling officers to account for billions of kwacha are not shocking to us but merely go to show how corruption is now deep-seated in our ministries. Almost all the permanent secretaries who have so far appeared before the Public Accounts Committee have failed to account for the billions of kwacha allocated to their various ministries as revealed by the Auditor General’s office.
This is a worrying trend which should be followed with the appropriate vigilance. It is clear that billions of our people’s money are not reaching the intended targets. They are being diverted for personal benefits by our civil servants.
But this is not a new discovery, it is just the latest. Year in and year out, the Auditor General’s reports expose glaring financial irregularities in our government departments and ministries. Millions of kwacha are reported stolen, misapplied or misappropriated but little or nothing is heard about what happens to those who steal, misapply or misappropriate public resources. And this is not the first time such revelations are coming out of the Public Accounts Committee.
The question is, why is there such inertia in dealing with plunderers of national resources? Why is it that our investigative wings of government do not take up these matters for investigation with a view to prosecuting those found wanting?
It is said that grey jackals know each other because of their speckles. One is comfortable with those who are similar to oneself. And we know that a log may stay in the water for a long time but it does not turn into a crocodile. One cannot be what he is not, even if he mixes with plunderers.
But our public systems are so rotten that corruption has permeated all ranks. That is why it is difficult for us to see action taken against all those exposed in the Auditor General’s reports. It’s like we are asking a thief to catch another thief. It’s not possible!
It cannot be denied that our permanent secretaries, as controlling officers, have not lived up to public expectations. That is why President Levy Mwanawasa, in suspending the slogan “zero tolerance on corruption” recently declared that the fight against corruption would be refocused to direct more attention at civil servants who administer public resources. This is as a result of a realisation that there will be no financial leakage without the involvement of controlling officers because they authorise all expenditure.
But as we are seeing from the reports, it is not just top civil servants who are involved in the plunder of national resources. The whole system is rotten. And as things stand today, we do not see any measures in place to curb this. All we hear every day is the same rhetoric about the fight against corruption. Known corrupt permanent secretaries are shielded and let loose to continue marauding public resources. Instead of being fired, we see some corrupt top civil servants being promoted and given more responsibilities. Sometimes those who are reported to be corrupt are even shielded from the long arm of the law. This is the paradox or irony about Levy’s fight against corruption. But Levy should be reminded that a leopard licks both its white and black spots. Justice should be administered fairly to all by those in authority.
We do not want to believe that there is not one among our permanent secretaries or indeed other top civil servants who is blameless. Some of these characters have accumulated or amassed a lot of wealth which our Anti-Corruption Commission or the money-laundering unit in the Drug Enforcement Commission do not seem interested to investigate when all eyes can see that these characters are living beyond their means. What the ACC and DEC do is to hoodwink the public with announcements of arrests and prosecutions of the smallest fish in the pond whose theft is almost insignificant compared to the millions and billions of kwacha that are stolen by the top civil servants.
It appears to us that Levy, in his fight against corruption, has gone in search of the fantastical birds of the sea. His dreams and ambitions in this fight will not be fulfilled if he does not change his approach. We have not seen or heard anything after he refocused his fight against corruption to put more attention on thieving civil servants.
Levy has to move and move fast to show that he means what he says, otherwise he will be laughed at even by the birds. If he is not careful, Levy will be like a person who is on a futile mission; one that is so unlikely to be fulfilled that even the birds will laugh at him.
Levy has correctly identified the source of plunder or corruption in government by singling out controlling officers. But his legs now seem to be too heavy to move to stop this plunder. Without doubt, corruption will be kept to its limits if controlling officers are not corrupt. What would stop junior officers from engaging in corrupt activities if their seniors are deeply immersed in that? Definitely nothing because we do not expect a thief to run after another thief.
Levy has to move and act now before it is too late. He should not choose to cross the river when it is flooded because he will be swept away by the strong currents. He has to move and decisively act now before these corrupt elements consolidate themselves against him, using plundered resources.