Chiri a lone voice in campaign against rampant corruption

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THE recently released annual public audit report by Auditor-General Mildred Chiri presents President Emmerson Mnangagwa with a perfect opportunity to act decisively on public sector mismanagement and deep-seated corruption, including prosecution of individuals complicit in graft, if he is to be taken seriously and the economy is to be revived.

By Nyasha Chingono

Since assuming power in a military coup in November 2017, Mnangagwa has largely been paying lip service on the fight against corruption, with the few cases which have been prosecuted largely seen as part of Zanu PF’s power struggles and personal vendattas.

Chiri’s audit report for the financial year ended December 31, 2018, reveals serious public sector mismanagement bleeding the economy of millions of dollars.

Chiri, who has consistently exposed government rot, has been fighting a lone battle against corruption, it seems.
In 2017, she almost lost her job but was saved by parliament which refused to sanction then Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa’s decision to fire her.

Last week, Chiri lamented lack of implementation of some of her recommendations by government which continues to treat habitual offenders with kid gloves.

As has been custom, parastatals scored poorly on the corporate governance index.

For his “zero tolerance to corruption” mantra to make sense, analysts say Mnangagwa should walk the talk and deal decisively with corrupt ministry heads keeping Zimbabwe under the rut.

In his inaugural speech on November 24, 2017, the President painted himself as a pragmatic leader who was ready to undo nearly four decades of corruption that brought this country to its knees. But since then, no meaningful arrests or convictions have taken place except those perceived to be the president’s political rivals.

According to Chiri’s report, at least 70 local authorities failed to submit financial statements for the Auditor-General’s audit, with only three having records audited for the year.

Chiri noted with concern that for the 2018 financial year, out of 92 local authorities, only three (Bindura Municipality, Tongogara Rural District Council and Marondera Rural District Council) had current (2018) financial statements audited and reported on, whilst 19 were in progress or at finalisation stage.

Former Finance minister and chairperson of the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee Tendai Biti told the Zimbabwe Independent he was pushing for criminalisation for non-compliance with the Auditor-General’s recommendations.

“As the public accounts committee, we have made recommendations which will be published soon. Part of the recommendations of the committee is the criminalisation of non-compliance with the law,” Biti said adding that the Minister of Finance will be mandated to impose regular monitoring on public accounts. “We also proposed regular monitoring, feedback by the minister.”

Biti said political will and legislative reforms were the panacea to dealing with corruption in the public sector.

“We propose legislation reforms on mechanisms to deal with corruption,” he said.

Biti, however, said Mnangagwa was not capable of decisively uprooting public sector corruption.

“President Emmerson Mnangagwa is surrounded by corrupt people and officials. A mosquito can’t cure malaria,” he added.

Habitual offender, the Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company (ZETDC), was once again in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons after failing to take delivery of transformers it paid for nine years ago. The company paid US$4,9 million to Pito Investments.

Pito Investments was also paid US$561 935 in advance for transformers by the Zimbabwe Power Company (ZPC) in 2016, but up to now nothing has been supplied.

During the same year, ZPC paid R196 064 to York International for gas that has not been delivered. The revelations are a grotesque irony coming at a time the power utility has said it is seriously underfunded and has rolled out massive load-shedding which lasts up to 17 hours.

Chiri’s audit on Zesa, awaits action, but the power utility has also been dogged by several scandals over the years past with very little done in terms of decisive government action to ensure accountability.

State entities Air Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe School Examinations Council and the Grain Marketing Board were also exposed by Chiri’s audit. Government finances were also in shambles.

Chiri said government revenues and expenditures of some financial statements were overstated by US$16 745 223, understated by US$21 153 747 while US$21 725 598 could not be verified.

Ministries with shambolic records include Health and Child Welfare, Defence and War Veterans Affairs, Transport and Infrastructure Development, Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development.

Expenditure totalling US$2 368 932 was incurred by ministries on the purchase of vehicles, generators, excavators, syringe infusion pumps, a water bowser and biometric cards which were not delivered.

“There was no evidence that the ministries had followed up deliveries of the outstanding goods,” Chiri said.

Economist, John Robertson called for accountability in handling public accounts and condemned behaviour by some local authorities which violated basic corporate governance tenets.

“Accounting standards are well known but from the report, councils have been behaving badly. There is no excuse why people should not do their job,” he said.

Robertson added that government lacked political will to deal with corruption.

“It would appear that there is no political will. They also don’t have the courage to go for the big people. No one should be above the law — they should just deal with corruption,” he said.

Economist Persistence Gwanyanya said government should enforce Chiri’s recommendations if the economy is to turn the corner.

“We need a change of culture and also require action on some of the things highlighted by the auditor general. We do not want the auditor general to reveal things and no action is taken. We have not been enforcing what the audit report is saying and that is not right,” Gwanyanya said.

“I think we need to be serious and the recent decision to bring the Zimdollar might fail if we are not committed to change.”

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