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Auditor-General key player in attaining Vision 2030

Pepukai Chivore
development economist

In my last episode, I reiterated the need for all hands to be on the deck if the corruption fight is to be won. It is no secret that fighting corruption requires a multi-pronged approach.  It requires change in attitude,  resources and reforms in public administration, judiciary, public information,  legislation and cultural values of the society among other areas. The Auditor-General, Mildred Chiri, on her part, has highlighted several delinquencies in PFM in Zimbabwe which include but not limited to:

Maintenance of accounting records which remains a challenge especially for fund accounts;

Misappropriation of funds/fraudulent activities;

Acquisition of goods without financial resources to meet the expenditure;

Processing of payments without adequate supporting documentation;

Ministry of Finance making direct payments on behalf of other Government departments which results in several inconsistencies between Appropriation accounts and Sub-PMG accounts;

Excessive borrowing;

Repeat offences with impunity;

Institutionalisation of various forms of corruption; and

Fraudulent practices

The 2019 Auditor General Report on Appropriation accounts raised a number of issues which can be summarised as:

Unauthorized excess expenditure of Z$6,8 billion from the Unallocated Reserve (UR);

Failure to do monthly payroll reconciliations;

Ministry of Finance continued to process various payments to suppliers of goods and services on behalf of ministries without adequate supporting documentation e.g Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare where $1 411 090 was made without supporting docs;

Appropriation Account Expenditure Variances;

Revenue from departmental surcharges, Treasury orders, penalties and fines dating as far back as 2009 remained uncollected;

Unsupported expenditure for example, Ministry of Health and Child Care unsupported payments worth Z$2 911 172;

Non-functional Audit Committees several Ministries;

Unjustified Direct purchases; and

Non-delivery of purchased goods eg Ministry of Youth, Sports, Arts and Recreation.

For local authorities, out of 59 issues, 34 relate to governance while 25 relate to revenue collection, employment costs, procurement and service delivery. Governance issues are in respect of councils operating without key policy documents, failure to review and approve payroll prior to processing, absence of control over contracted out services, improper management of Council assets, development of and without approval of the responsible minister and other issues on ineffective internal control systems.

It is important for readers to note that the Auditor-General does not detect and investigate corruption.

They simply help in the corruption fight by pointing out areas where opportunities for corruption exist or where controls are weak. It is incumbent upon Government, Parliament and citizens to follow these pointers and plug the potential or existing resource leakages.

The Auditor-General cannot keep on reporting the same or similar irregularities or examples of mismanagement and embezzlement year after year and no action is taken.

You will either shed a tear or shake your head in disbelief after reading through the Value for Money Audit Report on the registration, supervision and monitoring of schools and independent colleges by Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, the Report on disaster preparedness and distribution of Cyclone Idai donations in Manicaland and Masvingo Provinces and the recent  Special Audit Report of the Auditor General on the Covid-19 pandemic Financial Management and utilisation of public resources in the country’s provinces by ministries, departments and agencies.

Sadly, there has been a lot of lip-service to the implementation of audit recommendations.

In the 2019 Audit report on Appropriation and Fund Accounts, the Auditor-General disclosed that out of 356 recommendations made in 2018, 94 were fully implemented, 88 were partly implemented and 174 were not implemented.

In the 2018 report, it was revealed that out of 435 recommendations made in 2017, 108 were fully implemented, 85 were partly implemented and 242 were not implemented After Audit results and recommendations are presented in Parliament by the Minister of Finance, as per the Provisions of the Audit Office Act, the executive stands directed to take certain actions to address the audit findings.

The recommendations from the Auditor-General are fully supported by and flow from the associated findings and conclusions, aimed at correcting the underlying causes of deficiencies, and directed specifically at the entities responsible for acting on them. The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament scrutinises the Auditor-General Report and proffers further recommendations to improve Public Finance Management.

For accountability purposes, the public needs to be kept abreast of the status of those actions, and steps the executive has taken to address audit recommendations. Non-implementation of audit recommendations exposes Ministries, Department and Agencies (MDAs) to risk factors including the misappropriation of public funds, fraudulent activities and wasteful spending of public funds.

Government prepares responses to the PAC recommendations, and these responses are known as Treasury Minutes. If the PAC report raises no additional issues and makes no further recommendations beyond the issues and recommendations set out in the audit report, the Government may simply reference its response to the audit report. These responses are tabled in Parliament and become a public record.  The government’s response should be prepared and clearly articulate the government’s position in relation to each recommendation/finding.

Failure to implement the Auditor-General’s recommendations can be attributed to lack of interest by the auditees, most of whom have been reported to be failing or unwilling to constitute audit committees within their organisations.  Understandably, some of the recommendations are not implemented due to capacity constraints. This is so because some audit recommendations hinge on availability of financial and human resources, time, or enabling policy.This then calls for the government, through the budget, to create this capacity. The following measures can be taken to improve on the implementation of the Audit recommendations:

Regular progress monitoring especially by Parliament, and the amendment of the Audit Office Act and the Public Finance Management Act to empower the Auditor General to enforce implementation;

Establishment of a monitoring and evaluation (ME) unit to regularly track progress for proper implementation of audit recommendations

Assigning the responsibility for the implementation of accepted recommendations to a single person or unit in an MDA;

Developing an internal action plan that includes a timetable for implementation and clearly outlining roles and responsibilities for the implementation of each recommendation

Including in the plan mechanisms to monitor and report on results against key indicators

Allocating sufficient resources to implement the plan and set realistic and achievable time-frames and targets;

Nominating or establishing a committee (if not the internal audit committee) to monitor and report on progress

Providing regular reports on the progress of implementation of the accepted recommendations; and

Raising staff awareness of the outcomes of the audit, the need for timely implementation of recommendations and inviting feedback on how best that can be done

Involvement of the public in all these processes cannot be overemphasised. The International Budget Partnership has scored Zimbabwe a zero out of one hundred on public involvement in the audit process. The Office of the Auditor General should therefore open its doors to public interaction.

They should devise some mechanism to involve the general public or concerned citizens in planning the audit work. The focus should be on inviting suggestions about the audit of those areas which the people think have greater opportunities for corruption. All stakeholders, including Parliament and Civil Society Organisations should publish the audit reports in easy-to-understand language for the general public and disseminate them widely. This will encourage general public to take interest in the affairs of the state and demand accountability from the executive government.

Chivore is an economist. This weekly column, New Horizon, is published in the Zimbabwe Independent and co-ordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, an independent consultant, past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society and past president of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries & Administrators in Zimbabwe. — kadenge.zes@gmail.com or mobile: +263 772 382 852.

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