Diet of thieves


THE Auditor General’s report for the year ended 31st December 2015 is out in the public domain. And as usual it makes the hearts of many Zambians bleed with sorrow. Others are simply very angry.

After reading the latest Auditor General’s report, this is how Finance Minister Felix Mutati put it yesterday: ‘‘It does appear that irregularities are becoming a common diet in the civil service; we need to remove the fire that cooks that meal. It is our responsibility.’’

Mr Mutati was referring to glaring irregularities in the report such as unvouched expenditure – K349 million; undelivered materials – K251.5 million; irregular payments – K115 million; wasteful expenditure – K40 million; failure to follow procurement procedures – K35.7 million; misapplication of funds – K28 million; and over-payments – K26.5 million, among others.

If it were in other countries where they respect the sanctity of public funds, half of the Zambian civil servants would be in jail by now. The state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue where the national Budget is systematically plundered by those paid to manage the funds? And we are all quiet.

The Auditor General’s report casts serious doubt on the sincerity, integrity and ability of the men and women in the Ministry of Finance, Secretary to the Treasury, controlling officers or permanent secretaries with their directors and the entire Government machinery who manage these funds and make decisions on how to spend this money.

To amplify the problem, 84 paragraphs of this report highlight issues that could not be resolved during the audit process and whose corrective actions had not been taken as of September 2016.

The issues include the unvouched expenditure by ministries and their staff to the tune of K349 million, which was the highest irregularity uncovered by the auditors, followed by K251 million of undelivered materials.

Unvouched expenditure is where payment vouchers are either missing, unsupported or inadequately supported by relevant documents such as receipts and purchase orders.

This particular irregularity is common because this is where the culprits make their money. This is because without proper documents it makes it difficult for the auditors to ascertain the authenticity of the expenditure incurred and the thieving officer can get away with thousands of kwacha under the pretext that he or she ‘‘forgot’’ to attach the necessary documentation.

To make it easy for the crooked civil servant, there is no law to compel such an officer or official to do anything about it. The Auditor General’s report, it has been proved over the years, is not worth the paper it is written on.

As the Government launches the economic recovery programme which has seen the scrapping of subsidies on fuel and very soon electricity, we implore the Minister of Finance to impress upon his Cabinet colleagues to impose a ruthless belt-tightening campaign on Government expenditure to save money and make the national Budget realistic.

There is just too much loose money flying around in Government. Many of those charged with the responsibility to allocate resources to needy areas and carry out Government programmes have sticky fingers. Some have come to regard Government as a ‘‘business’’ in which to enrich themselves.

We call upon the entire Government leadership to support Mr Mutati’s resolve to ‘‘remove the fire that cooks that meal’’ in which millions of Kwacha are stolen, misapplied, wasted and misappropriated by the cadre of thieving civil servants who have no regard for political authority.

As the minister says, it is truly Government responsibility to safeguard these meagre resources which are badly needed to fulfil the Patriotic Front’s pro-poor stance whose goal is to take development to each and every town, township and village in Zambia.

We call on Government to dismantle the financial cartels in Government and the civil service which are so embedded in the system that it will need more than an administrative earthquake to remove them.

We cannot allow stealing to become a ‘‘common diet’’ of the civil service. It must be viciously and relentlessly rooted out.