🇿🇼 2019 Auditor General’s Reports: Why they must be demanded!
Activities by civil society organizations sometimes may seem disconnected from the day to day bread and butter issues the general populace care about, however these organizations have the resources and foresight to comprehend issues which have indirect influences on our survival both as individuals and as a society before anyone else.
Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (ZIMCODD) and other civil society organizations have been calling for the release of the 2019 Auditor General’s reports for sometime now. In conversations with some young people however the issue seems not so serious, they seem not to care much about just another document from the “government”.
Disinterest in reading, mistrust of the government and general political apathy are some of the drivers of this disconnection of citizens with the economic and political processes at the national level. For starters let me try to explain in simple terms why every Zimbabwean should care about Auditor-General’s reports especially the delayed/withheld 2019 reports.
The Zimbabwean Office of the Auditor-General has been impartial and honest.
The organization is currently led by an exceptional civil servant Mildred Chiri. The Auditor General has proven to be guided by professionalism, effectiveness and nonpartisanship in a hyper politically charged environment. This non-partisan and professional approach earned her respect across the political divide and for that reason her office’s reports are treated with respect and credibility.
Her commitment to her office saw her bringing new changes to the formarting of Auditor-General’s reports to make them simpler and eiser to understand. Less technical reports have proven to be more useful because the general public which she is employed to save were not understanding the more technical formatting of the past.
For someone who have been praised for managing to clear a backlog of the annual Comptroller and Auditor General’s reports which had lagged behind since the year 2000, it is fair to assume that the failure of the tabling of the 2019 reports is not her fault. Reports that the reports are being withheld further solidifies the need to demand the release of these needed reports.
Its a constitutional requirement
The Zimbabwean constitution demands that there should be an Auditor-General whose functions include:
(a) “to audit the accounts, financial systems and financial management of all departments, institutions and agencies of government, all provincial and metropolitan councils and all local authorities”
(c) “to order the taking of measures to rectify any defects in the management and safeguarding of public funds and public property”Constitution of Zimbabwe Section 309 subsection 2.
The auditor General after examining these accounts is supposed to issue and sign a certificate recording the result of his\her examination and prepare a report to be submitted before or on the 30th of June each year according to Section 35 of the Public Finance Management Act (Chapter 22:19).
Now its almost a year since the due date of the 2019 Auditor General’s reports, in short this is a blatant disregard of the constitution and a gross violation of the Public Finance Management Act (Chapter 22:19) and the Audit Office Act (Chapter 22:18). That alone should be a sufficient reason to demand the timely release of the 2019 Auditor General’s reports.
Previous Audits reveal massive abuses
Public resources mismanagement issues have been raised by the Office of the Auditor General in many of its reports and famously the 2018 reports which were released in 2019. The Auditor General in 2018 found that 82% of government expenditure of that particular year had irregularities ranging from unsupported expenditure, excess expenditure, and outstanding payments to suppliers of goods and services to transfers of funds without treasury approval.
In recent years the Auditor-General has also highlighted many other issues ranging from blatant violation of laws and procedures, wasteful expenditures, improper bookkeeping, unreconciled expenditures, unauthorized transfers of funds, fraudulent expenditures, unauthorized borrowings, non-servicing of loans, overstated expenditures, nepotism and of course payments made for goods not delivered. It has also been noted that there has been poor follow ups on these raised issues and poor uptake of recommendations by the Auditor General.
Any delayed tabling of the reports risks recurrence of issues which may have been raised by the Auditor-General. In 2019 for example some of the financial statements which were audited were from 2014 and in essence these misuses of public funds may have continued unabated for over four years. Raised issues were no longer traceable, responsible people some of which were no longer in the employ of the institution/s they have been at that particular time making accountability almost impossible.
For these reasons the timeous tabling of the Auditor-General’s reports is of paramount importance and citizens have to mobilise and demand that the reports be made available on time.
The cost of mismanaged resources is on you
The government doesn’t have money, it’s public money. Almost all sources of “government” money are on citizens’ expense from taxation, foreign “deals” and debt.
We can all remember the Mthuli 2% tax of 2019, we also remember that whenever the government runs out of money they think of taxing people. Tax is the money one could have spent on something else however ends up with the government. Generally people pay taxes with an assumption that their money will be put to good use for the public good.
Foreign deals which are often done behind closed doors leads to massive resources concessions by the government for example the now known Russian deals which left Zimbabwe giving platinum concessions and tax exemptions to Russian companies. Resources which could have been available for future use are being parcelled out to foreign companies in exchange of temporary services or money.
The last or rather first option for the Zimbabwean government whenever they encounter a budget deficit is debt. Total Public and Publicly Guaranteed (PPG) external debt position as of January 2020 was at US$8.09 billion and about 74 percent of that (US$5.97 billion) were arrears. Local debt continued to pile up over the past years with some estimates pegging it at ZWL $56 billion. These large sums of money are going to be paid by Zimbabweans sooner or later.
Here is the bottom line, higher taxes, parcelled out resources and public debt (which is going to come back as taxation) are all at our expense as Zimbabweans.
I am not against taxation and debt accumulation for that matter, however the two have to be accompanied with right public investments which will make people’s lives better and payback the debt, proper public resources utilisation and transparent/accountable resources management.
The Auditor-General’s reports are a window into the complicated day to day operations of the government and its institutions, the reports offer summarised bits of how public resources have been utilised.
They are important to the government as they are to the public, they help citizens know if they are getting value out of their resources, if not it agitates appropriate actions to right the wrongs in the future.
Utilisation of Auditor General’s reports
The fight for transparency and accountability does not end with the tabling of the Auditor-General’s reports. We have seen how recommendations of these reports have been ignored. A case in point is the non-implementation of the 2017 Auditor General’s recommendations. In 2018 the Auditor-General found that out 435 recommendations made in the 2017, only 25% had been implemented by the time of the 2018 audit.
Two years prior the implementation rate was better out of the 151 audit recommendations raised during the 2015 financial year, 48% were implemented by the time the 2016 audit was carried out. This can help us understand that lack of accountability has entrenched the practice of ignoring AG’s recommendations.
Citizens have to pressure responsible institutions starting with the Parliament of Zimbabwe. Citizens have to ensure that the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Public Accounts champions the coordination and enforcement of the Auditor General’s recommendations by the various oversight and anti-corruption institutions. This will ensure that the findings of the Auditor General remain relevant in promoting transparency and accountability in public finance management.