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MPs call for Auditor-General’s protection

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THE office of the Auditor-General is under threat from the twin perils of implicated officials who are unhappy with audit findings on one hand and the economic challenges hampering the important work of holding the government accountable on the other, it has emerged.

MOSES MATENGA

Myriad challenges are affecting the operations of the Mildred Chiri-led office and rendering its quest to promote accountability and expose looting “an academic exercise” while the country continues losing billions of dollars to leakages.

This also comes as former Finance minister Tendai Biti, who is also the ex-chairperson of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), said there were fears the operations of the Auditor-General were being affected by lack of independence and interference by the authorities.

Biti said inadequate funding was also a key factor affecting the operations of the office.

“To show her compromised independence, look at the decision taken to cover up names of people committing omissions and commissions. That clearly was not her decision but Zanu PF would have put pressure on her to protect known corrupt people linked to the state,” Biti told The NewsHawks this week.

“She has serious constraints that threaten her work,” the Harare East MP added.

“There have to be legislative changes, there have to be constitutional changes. There are also worries about her independence. There is still no audit board appointed, therefore she is forced to deal directly with the ministry (of Finance) yet the Act creates a buffer by creating a board for the commission that will then deal with the authorities,” Biti said.

Biti said another issue was that the office of the Auditor-General (pictured) was underfunded, hence lacking the capacity to deliver to expectations.

“As a result, she (Chiri) is understaffed, she doesn’t have equipment, software and so forth, so she has operational bottlenecks which stem from underfunding.”

“There are, of course, legal issues. There are no legal mechanisms of enforcing her recommendations, so ultimately her recommendations become academic. They gather dust and you have ministries, particularly the ministry of Finance, which has been non-compliant for the past essentially 10 years and there is nothing she can do about it.”

Officials who spoke to The NewsHawks this week confirmed that the authorities, some of whose institutions are implicated in the reports, have been pestering the auditors, questioning their findings that have exposed damning corruption in government, parastatals and local authorities.

“We have to fight many issues with authorities calling us. We run around sometimes trying to clarify issues and trying to explain to authorities on our findings,” a senior official in the Auditor-General’s office said.

In its latest reports, the Auditor-General’ office named several key institutions, including the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc), Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec), many ministries and parastatals for failing the accountability and transparency test.

Norton MP Temba Mliswa recently confirmed the threats and a myriad of challenges against the AG’s office while debating in Parliament on the need to protect the office and its operations.

“She (the Auditor-General) has received threats left, right and centre, but she keeps doing her job,” Mliswa told Parliament recently.

“She has no protection, she has nothing. If there is anybody who was supposed to be protected in this country, it is the one who exposes looters, but she has never requested for any extra security. She has never requested for anything. This must be a tribute to her,” Mliswa said.

MDC-T chief whip Paurina Mpariwa said the Auditor-General’s office, located at Burroughs House at the corner of George Silundika Avenue and Fourth Street, was in a state of disrepair with pipe leakages, broken windows and in serious need of refurbishment.

“It is a very small house, with water spillages because of sewer and broken pipes.  On the 1st to the 5th floor, you will find the offices of the AG whom we are talking about with broken furniture, non-functioning lift for so many years,” Mpariwa said as she gave insight in the operations and state of affairs at the Auditor-General’s office.

She said there is fear that the audit reports will at some point expire without any tangible action being taken to plug leaks.

PAC chairperson Brian Dube said in a recent report to Parliament: “Most of the laptops used by the staff were reported to be old, having since outlived their  useful lives. In addition, staff was reported to be sharing laptops when the ideal situation is for each auditor to have his or her own laptop to work from. This definitely negatively affects audit progress.”

“The committee was informed that the audit processes were still manual and, therefore, it  was difficult to audit remotely without being physically present at the client or auditee,” the report read in part.

However, it emerged that the Audit Office was in discussions with AFROSAI-E to help it to install an auditing software and to train the staff in the use of the software.

AFROSAI-E is a member-based institution with 26 auditors-general from English-speaking African countries who make up the organisation’s governing board.

It also emerged that the salaries were too low to attract professionals who are now moving outside the country in search of greener pastures despite an increment in September 2021.

Dzivaresekwa MP Edwin Mushoriwa said the Auditor-General’s office was lagging behind hence the need to capacitate it if the country is to achieve in its fight against corruption.

In an interview with The NewsHawks, Chiri said though the government has been helpful in meeting their needs, a lot more should be done.

“I feel the legal framework is there and enough and what is at stake is lake of enforcement. This is why the PSC introduced a course on work ethic and I think we all agree between 2008 and now in as far as work ethic is concerned, moral fibre has gone down in society and it is necessary to go back to basics.”

“We have to try and infuse integrity on work ethic and operations. We can have as many laws as we want, but we still need moral persuasion which comes from within.

“It appears sometimes where there are no consequences people will continue, but if you know you will be fired or there will be consequences, it will stop.”

“We presented our issues before budget. The ministry of Finance has tried on raising salaries and in terms of other challenges, including our own building. They have taken it as a project, including rehabilitation of the building and have a lot of areas, including sprucing up and asked to work with the ministry of Public Works and we hope it will help. There are constraints in terms of our work and I would say it is in the constraints of the general economy.”

“We want the tools of trade like laptops. Every auditor must have his or her laptop because that is now the trend. Information is computerised and, for auditors, you definitely need a computer.

 “We also need to be digitalised. We cannot have papers all over, but we can do anything on our machines and that is the way to go. As Zimbabweans, we realise we lag behind while others are ahead, not just our office, in the central government as a whole, there is need to computerise all systems. We need that kind of software and we are in need of acquiring that with the help of the ministry of Finance.”

“Digitalisation will also help in issues of staffing. We may not need many people.”

This article was made possible with the support from Friedrich Naumann Foundation(FNF) through the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ) 

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