Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Smokescreen workshops

Smokescreen workshops
By Editor
Wednesday July 11, 2007 [04:00]

Efforts by Secretary to the Treasury Evans Chibiliti to strengthen the treasury and financial management of public funds are good but should be cautiously commended. And we hope that the two-day workshop that Chibiliti has called to deal with, inter alia, concerns that have been raised by the Auditor General, Public Accounts Committee and the Government Assurances and Estimates Committee will bear fruits to be enjoyed for a long time to come.

In the recent past, just like in the remote past, the Auditor General, the Public Accounts Committee including other oversight institutions have exposed glaring financial irregularities by our public service workers, particularly controlling officers in various ministries.

Like Secretary to Cabinet Joshua Kanganja rightly observed, revelations of unaccounted for public funds are a clear demonstration of erosion of foundations of the civil service and government. There have been frequent reports of deep concern by oversight institutions regarding the abuse, misapplication, mismanagement and outright theft and misappropriation of public resources.

These are not new revelations. That is why we feel that Chilibiliti's efforts to redress the situation must be cautiously commended. We say this because perpetrators of these criminal activities are not strangers. Although no names are mentioned in the Auditor General's reports, thieves of public funds in the names of controlling officers and other officials are known and just a little effort by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), Drug Enforcement Commission (DEC) or indeed the police will bring them to the fore in order to face justice.

However, what happens is that institutions that are supposed to continue from where the Auditor General would have ended go to sleep as soon as reports are submitted to Parliament. The Auditor General's mandate does not include prosecuting thieves of public resources. Her mandate is merely to check how public resources are being accounted for by those who receive them.

But why is it that reports from the Auditor General's office are in most cases allowed to gather dust on shelves by those who are supposed to investigate further and take the necessary action? This is the crux of the matter. But Kanganja has an answer to this question. This state of affairs is a clear demonstration of the erosion of the civil service's foundations. Corruption has permeated the entire civil service, from top to bottom and it is not difficult for people to get away with thefts of millions of kwacha. There is no one to police the other; everyone has become a thief.

One does not need to be a genius to realise that civil servants are the greatest thieves of public funds. They complain of receiving peanut salaries but their way of life and their possessions are not commensurate with their earnings. How is this possible?
There is no need to waste more public resources organising workshops to deal with problems whose solutions are already known. We need to know what corrective and preventive actions or measures have been taken against all individuals who have been exposed by the Auditor General and other oversight institutions for various shortcomings, thefts and abuse of office.

This is the first step in normalising the situation in our civil service. Whenever a controlling officer has been exposed for failing to account for this or that, the public should be informed of what action has been taken against such an erring officer. Has he or she been fired, arrested or demoted? After that, the public should be told what has been done to ensure that there is no repetition of such thefts or abuse.

This is what will help to quickly bring sanity to the accountability of public funds. Workshops will serve little or no purpose. It is not that these controlling officers are inadequate in their qualifications or knowledge and so sometimes they make mistakes because they do not understand procedures and things like that. We can safely say that our civil service today has some of the most educated Zambians. In fact, some of these officers are able to launder millions of kwacha from public coffers because they misuse their education.

In our view, our controlling officers do not need a two-day workshop to understand why there is a huge accumulation of cash balances in commercial banks by ministries and spending agencies, issues of non-alignment of procurement plans to budget execution, the poor performance of non-tax revenue and accumulation of domestic arrears including utility bills. A controlling officer who doesn't understand why this is so does not deserve to continue in his or her position and there is no need to waste time with him or her at a workshop.

Like we pointed out earlier, these controlling officers know what is expected of them and in most cases they have the capacity to deliver. But because of their unbridled appetite for public resources, they are the ones in the forefront circumventing rules and procedures to accommodate their thieving schemes. How can one explain the K3 billion saga that Kashiwa Bulaya was involved in a few years ago when he served as a controlling officer? And there are many more Kashiwa Bulayas today in government who are being shielded from facing the law.

For as long as this continues, nothing will be achieved. Chibiliti will call for one workshop after another but the situation will keep on degenerating.
Controlling officers are custodians of public resources and are therefore expected to spearhead the development of the country as well as safeguard the interests of the general citizenry. But this is not happening. These officers are day in and day out spearheading their own development and safeguarding their own interests.

But why should we continue to accept this scenario? Our people should not be deceived by smokescreen workshops meant to send them to sleep under the mistaken impression that corrective measures in as far as good governance and accountability of public resources are being taken. Chibiliti, Kanganja and all those involved in ensuring accountability of public resources know how best to stop the looting of public funds but are shy to implement that.

Kanganja is complaining that things are not alright because every day there are press reports highlighting abuse of public resources by public officers, but he is not telling the public what corrective measures his office has taken against such officers. Let the right steps be taken, otherwise nothing will be achieved. Only a few weeks ago, several controlling officers appeared before the Public Accounts Committee and lamentably failed to account for millions of kwacha that were released to their ministries and provinces.

Our people are much more interested in finding answers to such issues instead of being treated to smokescreen workshops.

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At 6:15 AM , Blogger MrK said...

So why is money released to the ministries at all? Why isn't it monitored all the way to the point where it is spent?

If someone is overcharging; if money is getting lost, penalize the ministry or the minister in charge.

It isn't as if this issue is out of the hands of central government.

Unless of course the MMD is weak on corruption, because it itself is corrupt. They'll have a fine time explaining that to their donors, who in turn will have a fine time explaining that to their public.

Corruption like this can easily be stopped.


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