Auditor-General’s Office In Dire Straits
…MPs question govt sincerity in fighting graft
THE efficiency of the Auditor-General’s office is under threat as the government has reneged on financing the critical body in what members of Parliament say is a futile attempt by the regime to cripple the Mildred Chiri-led team from exposing the massive looting in ministries and parastatals.
So dire is the situation that the Auditor-General’s office has since been hit by high staff turnover, transport challenges and lack of furniture to properly
execute their duties while the government is turning a blind eye to requests by Parliament to give 1% of the national budget to the office. MPs have since put Finance minister Mthuli Ncube in a corner for not addressing critical issues of remuneration of staff in the AG’s office and not providing essentials, with some now calling for a vote of no confidence in the Treasury chief.
According to a report by Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chairperson Brian Dube (Gweru Urban), the AG’s office is now too handicapped to carry out its mandate — including the preparation and presentation of annual reports to the minister each year — important work which routinely exposes mainly corruption, incompetence and inefficiency in parastatals and ministries.
“The effect of the late preparation and tabling has the effect of rendering the examination of reports an academic exercise as the effects of the malpractices will not be addressed in good time,” the report presented by Dube read in part.
Transport challenges have seen workers in the AG’s office arriving at late at work and leaving early to catch the only cheaper available Public Service Commission (PSC) buses just like other civil servants.
“Some of the staff was reported to arrive rather late for work around 9.00am since some of them are picked up on the second trips. Thereafter, they have to go to their clients and auditees at various ministries and state enterprises where they may arrive around 10:00 am,” the report read.
“In the afternoon, the first trips were reported to leave around 3:15pm and so for staff to catch the buses, they in turn have to leave the clients’ premises around 2:30pm, effectively leaving them with about four (4) hours per day to carry out audits.”
Another challenge is the mass exodus of critical staff due to lower salaries and poor working conditions.
“The Committee gathered that the Audit Office continues to lose experienced staff due to low salaries, leaving a lot of vacancies.”
“The office doesn’t also have tools of the trade that include computers, making it difficult to operate.
“Most of the laptops used by the staff were reported to be old, having since outlived their useful lives,” Dube said.
Dzivaresekwa MP Edwin Mushoriwa said there was a need for the government to allocate at least 1% of the national budget allocation to the capacitation of the AG’s office.
“Most auditing offices across the region and in the world are allocated 1% of the budget.
That percentage makes your audit office to be professional, to be able to retain critical staff. We have a situation at the moment where our audit office is lagging behind because it becomes a training ground for professionals and auditors. Once they would have reached the peak, they then leave and we continue training.”
“In my view and the Committee’s view, it is important that when we do budget debates, we should urge the minister of Finance to ensure that a sizeable budget is given.”
Shurugwi North MP Robson Nyathi said: “From the report that I have just heard from the chairperson of the Public Accounts Committee, it shows that for our employees that are employed at the AGs Office the work conditions are not favourable.”
Norton MP Temba Mliswa said it was time the government took the funding of the AG’s office seriously.
“When we talk about 1% of the budget going towards them, it does not mean much, that is the truth of the matter. It is therefore important without any further delay or any debate that this 1% be given to this department because it is the one that is looking after the people’s money.”
“You have got to see that the minister of Finance is also a culprit. We must call a spade a spade. The minister of Finance, though he is a responsible minister, the accountability leaves a lot to be desired. They have failed to hold most ministries accountable for the monies that they give to them.”
Hwange Central MP Daniel Molokela-Tsiye said: “We cannot continue like this as a country. I, personally would be happy if a vote of no confidence motion can be moved against the minister of Finance to show the people of Zimbabwe that we are serious in addressing the issue that they are facing and that we are serious in stopping this brain drain.”
“In particular, it has been cited that the AG’s office should receive 1% of the budget. As parliamentarians, we do not need to talk about it, we need to take a strong position and make sure that when it comes to voting for the budget and approving it, we can take a public position and say as members of Parliament, we are refusing to pass the budget until the 1% is fully allocated to the AG’s office. Then we would have proved that we do not just talk but walk the talk.”
“We talk about fighting corruption in Zimbabwe, how can we fight corruption when we are not funding the AG’s office? How can we win the battle against corruption when the AG’s office is losing a lot of its skilled and experienced staff?”
Harare North MP Rusty Markham said: “It is absolutely essential if the minister of Finance and the government, if they are serious about corruption, they will fund the tool that has proved itself to highlight corruption and that is this office. By not funding it, it is quite obvious that you do not want to stop the corruption.”