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Act now against corrupt officials

THE latest audit report by the Auditor-General Mildred Chiri confirms yet again good corporate governance remains alien culture to the Zanu PF government, costing the country millions at a time it desperately needs to be prudent in the way it spends every penny it can lay its hands on.

Zimbabwe Independent Editorial

The report for 2013 tells an all-too-familiar tale of flagrant disregard for clearly laid down procedures and routine — the basis of accountability and sound corporate governance.
But such principles apparently do not figure high on government’s list of priorities.

Despite last year’s publicity of the National Code of Corporate Governance, co-crafted by government and the private sector to provide a holistic solution to corporate failure, it is yet to be launched despite reports last May President Robert Mugabe would do so “soon”.

Chiri’s audit, among other shockers, reveals US$33,3 million was advanced by government to three parastatals — public enterprises excelling in perennially haemorrhaging the fiscus — as loans without requisite signed agreements.

As the audit warns: “In addition to compromising accountability and transparency, the absence of an agreement outlining obligations of each party may render the recoverability of the loans difficult.” That’s assuming there was an intention to recover the money in the first place.

Ministries were found to be flouting procurement regulations by breaking tender procedures by, among other aberrations, paying before goods were supplied, while some ministries paid suppliers without the supporting documents such as invoices, suggesting fraud and that officials were getting kickbacks.

At a time Treasury is struggling to meet its obligations, including public sector salaries, it is a grave indictment of the system that owing to weak or blatantly ignored controls, the Defence ministry failed to account for US$35 million, police overspent by US$70 million while other ministries failed to account for millions in unsupported payments.

This audit narrative has become standard fare. It is in keeping with government’s tragic propensity for cheap rhetoric rather than appropriate action, even in the face of a resurgent economic crisis showing no signs of abating. It is thus hardly surprising the Corporate Governance Framework, launched during the tenure of the unity government (2009 to 2013), remained dead in the water.

It is common cause that corruption and personal enrichment are key impediments to good corporate governance, as is getting parastatals to play their part in economic and social development instead of draining the fiscus.

But bigwigs in government ministries and departments, parastatals and local authorities refuse to play ball: for instance, despite giving their word, the army and airforce have for the third year running refused to submit their asset registers for audit.

Until there is political will to appoint persons to public office primarily on merit and take measures to combat abuse of office, poor corporate governance by a rapacious, politically-connected elite will remain the norm.

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