Govt must be accountable

Faith Zaba

ZIMBABWE never ceases to amaze. Just this week we were told how the chairperson of the Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe, Tafadzwa Musarara, received US$26,1 million from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) that was meant for the association, but ended up in his company’s bank accounts.

Musarara admitted to the Lands, Agriculture, Water and Climate Portfolio committee led by Justice Mayor Wadyajena that the US$26,1 million he received from the RBZ ended up in a bank account belonging to one of his firms, Drotsky, but was used to purchase wheat for the 14 wheat millers and repair Grain Marketing Board silos. He, however, failed to furnish the committee with proof that he purchased the wheat with the money. He also could not provide evidence that the other sum was used to repair the silos.

On the same day, the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) chairperson Loice Matanda-Moyo also told the nation that they had identified over US$7 billion in cash and properties stashed outside the country by former and current senior government officials and captains of industry. Considering that Zimbabwe’s 2019 gross domestic product (GDP) was US$12,8 billion, the US$7 billion is really significant. It is 58,3% of the GDP of a poor country like Zimbabwe, grappling with soaring unemployment of over 95%, acute foreign currency shortages and impoverishment.

Matanda-Moyo said some of the properties and cash were in Switzerland, London, the United States, Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Mauritius and Spain, among other countries.

This is not the first time Zimbabweans have heard of such high levels of misappropriation of public funds. If anything, these latest reports only attest to the persistent culture of bad corporate governance and gross mismanagement of public funds.

For many years, the Auditor-General, Mildred Chiri, has been highlighting these issues in her reports. It seems, however, she has been fighting a lone battle against corruption. Chiri has also lamented lack of implementation of some of her recommendations. She has exposed the rot in Treasury, other government departments and institutions, where payments were not supported by invoices and receipts from service providers.

In 2015, the Auditor-General found that 13 of the 27 ministries audited (48%) were not reconciling differences in figures in the sub-paymaster general accounts and the public finance management system.

She has persistently highlighted the weak control environments in government ministries and parastatals. Most of the state enterprises and local authorities in all of the country’s 63 districts have become feeding troughs for senior employees, ministers and people connected to the ruling Zanu PF.

Chiri, in a 2018 report, exposed poor maintenance of accounting records in government, with some ministries diverting funds for non-intended purposes, while others paid for goods that were never delivered.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration needs to start acting decisively on public sector mismanagement and deep-seated corruption, including prosecution of individuals complicity in graft. The administration needs to show political will in fighting the corruption cancer.

Government must stop treating offenders, some of whom are habitual, with kid gloves.Massive corruption reported in the media is a reflection of the alarming levels it has reached, while it also exposes the culture of impunity in the country.

How do public funds end up in a private bank account when accounting standards are well-known? It is not only unethical, but also undermines one’s integrity, ultimately destroying public trust. It has a severe reputational hit. Countries that have low trust levels attract less investment, in the process stagnating their economic growth.

Trust (from both citizens and foreign investors) is easy to lose and difficult to win back and may take long to recover. Those who are charged with governance have a responsibility to set the tone for ethical behaviour. Transparency is critical to rebuilding trust.

There is need for accountability in handling public accounts. The current administration needs a paradigm shift and start implementing recommendations by Chiri, which promote good corporate governance, transparency and accountability. National achievements and prosperity are hinged on those three key pillars.

Those implicated should be dismissed and the law should take its course. This is a litmus test for accountability in the handling of public funds.

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