Financial outrage

Year in and year out, the Auditor General’s report comes out with shocking evidence and revelations of how those mandated with the authority to manage Government resources are helping themselves to this money, rendering the Government Budget nothing but a State ritual. Every year the AG’s report shows that more money has been misapplied, misappropriated or simply stolen by civil servants and little, if any, has been done to the culprits who gladly wait in their offices for the next Budget to find out how much they can get away with this time. The Office of the Audit General is mandated by law to audit all Government departments, parastatal organizations, statutory boards as well as donor funded agencies where public funds have been invested. This is a mammoth task but one which this office carries out with surprising ease. Its major role is to scrutinize these public offices to ensure that there is no wastage of taxpayers’ money and that the Government delivers services in an equitable, efficient and effective manner for the benefit of all Zambians. After compiling its report, the Office of the Auditor General submits its report to Parliament whose Public Accounts Committee goes through the report page by page and can summon heads of various line ministries to explain the discrepancies arising from the report. This has been another ritual of little importance as these permanent secretaries, as authorizing officers, have been grilled at these highly publicized sessions and nothing else has come out of them. If anything there are occasions where the chairpersons and members of this committee merely play to the gallery and their advice or directives have been summarily ignored. The senior civil servants go back to their posh offices, laugh off the slap on the wrist, and it is business as usual. And yet the role of both the Auditor General and the Public Accounts Committee is to provide the National Assembly with in-depth information which parliamentarians can use to hold Government to account. The sad part of it is that both the Office of the Auditor General and the Parliamentary Accounts Committee are, for lack of a better word, toothless bulldogs without the power or authority to report any offender to the police and prosecute culprits. This has been so for all these years amid public outcry and clamour to enact a law that will empower the Auditor General to prosecute the offenders. This is because politicians are the heads of these erring ministries and the buck stops at their doorsteps. If ever there was an authorizing officer dragged before the courts to answer charges of abuse of public resources, mostly likely the politician would be touched by the scandal. To protect themselves, politicians have deliberately allowed the Office of the Auditor General’s massive reports of Government mismanagement of public resources to gather dust in the National Archives and the PAC to be a mere empty calabash that makes a lot of noise which they can afford to ignore. After all it is Zambian parliamentary tradition that a back bencher of the ruling party cannot dare question Government over such ‘‘policy’’ issues. It is deemed party indiscipline. For the opposition, whatever they say is ‘‘opposition’’. No wonder we are surprised that the Civil Society for Poverty Reduction is reportedly ‘‘deeply shocked’’ that public funds meant to eradicate poverty and improve the living standards of the people continue to be misapplied and abused by those entrusted to run the civil service. The reason is simple. There has never been a political will since Independence to bring this to an end. Kenneth Kaunda tried it for a few years but when he realized Zambians are so lukewarm, so docile and do not care about the value and use of public resources, he relaxed and eventually gave up. It has been business as usual since then.