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Impunity fuels govt corruption

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IT has become something of a tedious ritual: Auditor-General Mildred Chiri compiles a thorough report, the Finance minister takes his time before tabling it in the National Assembly an then the Press drops the bombshell.

What follows, predictably, are gasps of shock and disbelief from a few citizens and members of civil society. After a few days, the screaming newspaper headlines are toned down and life, as we know it, goes on.

Do public officials face any personal consequences for corruption and mismanagement in this country? Once in a blue moon, one “unlucky” chap is exposed and hauled over the coals. For the most part, however, the purveyors of bad governance face no repercussions.

This creates a suffocating sense of impunity. Public confidence in constitutionalism and the rule of law is grossly undermined.

Corruption and mismanagement in the public service is thriving because the rot starts at the very top.

The Auditor-General’s 2019 report, finally  released last week after an unjustifiably long delay, shows a continuation of bad governance, gross mismanagement of public funds and dereliction of duty by top officials.

In Zimbabwe’s bloated bureaucratic edifice, it is difficult to find upright officials who remain untainted by malfeasance.

The Auditor-General’s integrity, probity and professional approach to duty are rare in many ways.

The office of Auditor-General is an independent institution which provides Parliament with audited information on the financial management of public funds by the executive arm of government. It derives authority from the constitution.

Every year, Chiri exposes the looting and mismanagement which cost the taxpayer astonishing amounts of money. But rarely do we see action being taken against those implicated.

Thieves are pocketing vast amounts of public funds.

In 2019, Treasury incurred unauthorised excess expenditure totalling ZW$6.8 billion.

This is a serious assault on governance. The law stipulates that the accounting officers in line ministries must report all forms of irregular and unauthorised expenditure. Accountability and transparency must be cardinal values for everyone who handles public funds.

We are, of course, alive to the reality that accounting is largely “ex post facto” by nature. For that reason and more, unauthorised expenditure does not always point to sinister motive. In some situations, unauthorised expenditure can arise under genuine or unavoidable circumstances.

That is where Parliament comes in; legislators must meticulously scrutinise the audit report and ask Finance minister Mthuli Ncube the tough and necessary questions.

One of the key constitutional functions of the legislature is that of oversight. Parliament’s watchdog role, on paper at least, is one of the cornerstones of constitutional democracy. MPs must ask: Is the executive arm of government performing its duties and responsibilities in prudent and efficient ways that further the national interest?

Corruption takes root in a system that turns a blind eye to dodgy payments. Large amounts of taxpayers’ money are being paid to suppliers of goods and services without the requisite supporting documentation.

If there were severe personal repercussions for this behaviour, the senior officials who preside over this naked corruption would certainly think twice before masterminding such criminality.

It is a tragic day for governance when the Auditor-General reports that she could not find evidence of how Transport ministry funds totalling ZW$657.5 million were spent.

We are talking of a country in which the level of extreme poverty is shooting up in an alarming manner. Malnutrition is running rampant. Children are dropping out of school in record numbers. Millions have lost jobs. The social suffering is immense.

Thieves in suits who call themselves government officials must be flushed out and brought to justice.

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