Saturday, July 28, 2007

Masebo invites TIZ to probe local authorities

Masebo invites TIZ to probe local authorities
By Joan Chirwa and Mutale Kapekele
Tuesday July 24, 2007 [08:31]

LOCAL government and housing minister Sylvia Masebo (above) has said she will authorise Transparency International Zambia (TIZ) to collect data on corruption levels among local authorities. During a discussion at this year’s annual conference of the Local Government Association of Zambia (LGAZ) in Livingstone last week, Masebo acknowledged that most local councils were not up-to-date in terms of accountability of resources.

She said her ministry had received a lot of complaints from members of the community against the council’s misuse of resources for personal gain.

“There are a lot of watchdog institutions in the country now and many more are coming up. They will ask you how you are disbursing money and we will not stop them. The environment has changed now and there is nothing like you are a minister, councillor or whatever. If you are found with a case to answer, the law will catch up with you,” Masebo warned. “I got a letter from Transparency International Zambia asking for permission to collect information on operations of local authorities and this data will be published. They will start with six councils and Chongwe is one of them. I believe this is the only way we will be up-to-date and be transparent in whatever we are doing as councils because our core responsibility is to deliver quality services to communities.”

The Office of the Auditor General has been revealing glaring financial irregularities in the misuse of public funds by different government departments amounting to trillions of kwacha.

International lending institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank last week urged the government to ensure high levels of accountability were attained among public workers for prudent use of national resources.

Promises have been made by the Ministry of Finance and National Planning that those implicated in the misuse of public resources would be dealt with accordingly.
Recently, a workshop was organised for all controlling officers in the country aimed at strengthening expenditure systems and accountability of public resources.

And Masebo noted that most local councils had been collecting enough revenue for service delivery but had failed to perform to expected standards because of prioritising personal emoluments.

“The problem is that you always want to give yourselves salary increments and you are forgetting that you are supposed to divide the resources you get between service delivery and workers’ salaries,” Masebo said. “You should allocate resources based on what is on the ground.”

Masebo further said most local councils need to update their books of accounts in line with the law so that they could be presented to Parliament.

“We have had serious issues with audits as the local authorities. This has caused a lot of problems,” Masebo said. “It is important to update these books of accounts. We seem to be getting a lot of complaints in terms of misapplication of resources. The worst part is when councils fail to respond to queries reflected in the report of auditors.

“There are councils like Kaoma, Monze, Kapiri Mposhi that up to now I do not know how far they have gone with responding to audit queries. You just sit on them especially when an officer is implicated.

“This should not be the case and that is why it will be important to engage watchdog institutions in assessing our performance so that we can improve on accountability.
“I want to warn you now that any council that sits on an audit query, more still where councilors have misused CDF Constituency Development Funds money, the ministry will use that to suspend that council. That is the only way people will get serious with their work. This system is giving all of us a bad image.”

Masebo advised that local councils must deal with audit reports decisively as they understand their operations better.

“You know better the issues because you are closer to them. If you think the audit report is not right, deal with that issue so that I can be satisfied you dealt with the problems correctly,” Masebo said. “We are in a very democratic environment now where there is no more hiding.

The atmosphere is very different now because it doesn’t matter who you are in society. Citizens and a number of watchdog institutions are very alert to ensure that resources are used prudently. These people have been writing letters complaining about councils. I personally do not like to have a bad name. I like doing my best in whichever sector I am in.”

Transfer of employees at DEC worries ACC
By Noel Sichalwe and Sandra Lombe
Saturday July 28, 2007 [04:01]

ANTI-Corruption Commission (ACC) director general Nixon Banda has expressed worry at the manner DEC Commissioner Ryan Chitoba is transferring employees suspected to be whistle blowers in the abuse of authority of office scandal.

And Banda had indicated that ACC would ask Ministry of Home Affairs permanent secretary Peter Mumba to stop transfers of DEC officers if it was established that they are possible witnesses.
Meanwhile, Banda has said investigations into Southern Province minister Joseph Mulyata's abuse of office allegations have reached an advanced stage.

Addressing the press yesterday, Banda said the ACC was studying the matter to see how it could help. He said the reported transfer of DEC employees suspected to have been whistle blowers could have been an administrative matter.

"The current ACC Act does not contain the provision for the protection of whistle blowers but there is an Act that provides for protection of potential witnesses," Banda said.

"Some of these people are going to be our witnesses. We are studying to see how they can be protected. If some people will be found to be witnesses, we will ask the PS (permanent secretary - home affairs) to stop the movement of these people so they can testify."

Banda also said that ACC could not at the moment recommend whether Chitoba should be sent on forced leave or not.
"The matter is still under investigation, when we reach where it is necessary, then we will make recommendations."
ACC recently started investigating Chitoba for abuse of office involving about K1 billion.

Chitoba has transferred and demoted about 10 officers suspected to have leaked information relating to financial scandals surrounding the institution.

Banda confirmed the ACC was investigating allegations of suspected abuse of office against Mulyata and Chitoba.
He said he could not provide details of their enquiries into Mulyata and Chitoba for fear of jeopardising their investigations.
He said Mulyata was being investigated because he used his office to release Lusaka businessman Geoffrey Bwalya Mwamba's Germinis bus before it could be cleared for overloading.

And Banda said the investigations in the allegations of corruption in the Ministry of Lands were still continuing and that ACC expected more arrests soon.

He said in the second quarter, three suspects, who included former lands minister Gladys Nyirongo, former commission of lands Frighton Sichone and Samuel Daka who was acting head of estates and valuation in the ministry, were arrested.

"We expect more to be arrested soon. However, it would not be appropriate for me to furnish you with further details of these cases at this stage as this would prejudice the investigations," Banda said.
He also said the process of ascertaining the value of properties was continuing.

Banda said so far 146 properties of industrial, residential, farm plots and six motor vehicles had been seized from the suspects.
"Soon we will be making recommendations to the Ministry of Lands on disposal of some of these properties," Banda said.
Banda said in the second quarter the commission had registered 14 new prosecution cases.

He said the convictions remained at four and two acquittals.
Banda said during the same period the commission received a total of 523 corruption and non-corruption reports.
"Lusaka recorded the highest at 271 whilst Mongu recorded lowest at 17. Out of these, 240 were corruption related complaints whilst 283 were non-corruption related complaints and treated as information received," Banda said.

"Of the 523 cases, 110 were authorised for investigations while 413 were deemed not to be pursuable."

Banda said complaints against officials in the ministries, departments and agencies from January to July were 444 whilst complaints against the private sector totaled 222.
He said 75 cases were closed in the second quarter and said reasons for closing the cases varied from lack of evidence to non-availability of witnesses.

Banda said other cases had been recommended for administrative action by relevant authorities.
He said 14 arrests had been made in the second quarter for various corruption cases.

Banda said the commission undertook a number of programmes in efforts to enhance more stakeholders' involvement in institutionalising prevention to achieve its goal of reducing levels of corruption in the country.

He said through ACC's joint operations and exercises with other departments and institutions, the commission participated in the prevention of corruption in the enrolment of students at Zambia Enrolled Nurses schools countrywide.

Banda said the report had been sent to the Zambia Nursing Council and recommendations were yet to be discussed.
He said the commission participated in the prevention of enrolment of students at colleges of education countrywide and in the manner the recruitment of new teachers was done at the Ministry of Education.

"The programmes which are on going are the prevention exercise in the allocation of rooms to students at the University of Zambia in Lusaka, Passport Office, purchase of maize from farmers by the Food Reserve Agency and the fertilizer support programme among others," Banda said.

He said earlier reports on the above had left much to be desired.
The commission during the same period had various activities among them radio programmes, discussion fora, and youth festival and community education.

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