Auditor General must zero in on Presidential trips – TIZ

Transparency International Zambia (TIZ) says it is not shocked with the exposé published by News Diggers! last week regarding the wastage of public resources on President Edgar Lungu’s trips, but it is rather saddened by the lack of fiscal discipline in the PF government.

And TIZ president Rueben Lifuka has asked the Auditor General’s office to zero in on presidential trips so that the public can be assured that taxpayers’ money is not being wasted.

Meanwhile Lifuka has charged that President Lungu’s administration has continued to walk on a treacherous path.

“Transparency International Zambia, while not shocked by the exposé on the expenditures associated with the Presidential trip undertaken to New York in 2015, is saddened by the apparent failure to instil fiscal discipline in the Presidency. This abuse and wastage of public financial resources associated with presidential trips, is the blight that has been associated with many successive governments of this country and it would seem the administration of President Lungu has continued to walk down the same treacherous path,” he said.

“What we find disturbing is that apparent lack of willingness to stem the haemorrhaging of public resources through lavish and yet wasteful spending on such trips. This goes to reinforce the social and economic disparities in this country, where those entrusted with public power, abuse it for personal aggrandisement and short change the people they lead. This is a stark reminder of the shortcomings of our fight against corruption where our leaders confine the definition of corruption to bribery or kickbacks and conveniently overlook the simple fact that abuse of resources or authority, trading in influence, cronyism and patronage, are all forms of corruption which need serious attention. It is self defeating for a government which proclaims a desire to curb corruption, to defend or even attempt to defend such wanton expenditure of public resources.”

Lifuka wondered if the dossier was an example of how much money was wasted on the rest of President Lungu’s rips.

“The expose published in the News Diggers! essentially touches on one trip taken in 2015. In the meantime, it is public knowledge that President Lungu has subsequently made numerous other trips and the question that begs an answer is whether the wanton and wasteful expenditure of 2015 was a one off or this indeed is now the modus operandi for all trips, where presidential trips are essentially sojourns of pleasure seekers who live life at large, totally indifferent of the swelling ranks of poor people in Zambia, who are denied the opportunity of using these public resources to better their standard of living. Unless information is provided to prove otherwise, the general conclusion that can be inferred is that unexplained and unwarranted expenditure has characterised several of the trips undertaken by the Presidency,” he said.

“This expose brings back to the table the discussion on the relevance of some the trips undertaken by President Lungu in the last three years. It is time that serious effort was made to streamline these trips. Yes, there will be occasions when the President absolutely needs to travel and represent this country but travel should not be the number one Term of Reference for the President and his team. It is time that a strategic approach is taken to ensure that public resources are not fretted away on unnecessary and costly international travel.”

TIZ condemned the number of public servants and party officials accompanying the President on foreign trips.

“It is evident from the exposé and from past history that presidential delegations continue to be populated by a cabal of free riders, if not free loaders – people who have no relevance to the agenda of the presidential visits but by some stroke of political fortune find themselves on the list and at times for peripheral reasons- including sectarian ones like participating in PF fundraising dinners or events. It is totally unacceptable and an act of injustice to the suffering masses that party operatives find themselves on such trips drawing allowances and other payments from public coffers. There should be a distinct separation in terms of financing between the State and Party in power. We do not want to go back to the days when the lines were blurred and state resources were commingled with party resources,” Lifuka said.

“Similarly, we have an unjustified increase in numbers of public servants accompanying the President – surely, prudence would dictate that only relevant numbers of public servants make these trips. We saw that under some of the previous Presidents like late President Mwanawasa, there were efforts made to streamline the numbers on presidential delegations. As the situation is at the moment, the majority of tax payers are making a huge personal sacrifice to pay the numerous taxes and levies and this is in the vain hope that these resources will be used prudently for national development and not to finance artists or musicians to go and perform at a political party event abroad or indeed to meet the costs of travel for ruling party officials. It would seem presidential trips are now a gravy train and conduit for political patronage- an opportunity for shopping and pleasure hunting and bringing back home goods duty free.”

He wondered if there were any meaningful internal controls to regulate expenditure on Presidential trips.

“Accountability of public resources – In recent years, the erosion of accountability of public resources, has become a permanent refrain in the Auditor General’s report and the expose speaks volumes about the weak or possibly non-existent internal controls. Accountability lies at the heart of good financial governance,” he observed.

Lifuka said President Lungu’s spokesperson Amos Chanda’s explanation that President Lungu never participated in the extravagance in New York was not comforting because money was spend nevertheless.

“It is interesting to note the comments made by the Special Assistant to the President for Press – Mr Amos Chanda that President Lungu has never participated in a dinner dance cruise or walking tour etc. But the question is not about President Lungu himself participating in these events, it is also about persons in his delegations who clearly are taking advantage of the weaknesses in internal controls and utilising the presidential imprest and other resources for personal gain. What Mr Chanda does not do is to dispute the expenditure and probably, the persons who should confirm or dispute the figures in question are the Controlling Officer or whoever was in charge of the funds for this trip. In fact. Mr. Chanda’s statement raises an even bigger problem, if the presidency does not know of such expenditure, then who authorised the use of public funds in this manner? Who was the imprest holder?” he asked.

“As far as we are concerned Public financial regulations apply evenly to all public entities including the presidency – and this exposé leaves a lingering concern that these regulations are not being applied evenly. It further raises the question about the competency of the Controlling Officer whose duties include notifying the Secretary to the Treasury of particulars of unauthorised, irregular or wasteful expenditure. Has any report been made to that effect and what has the Secretary to the Treasury done about it? This exposé raises other concerns- where was the Internal auditor in these transactions? Did someone verify the authenticity of these expenditures? Did these expenditures correlate with the funds that were released and authorised? Was there an expenditure return made and is everything above board? We are definitely interested in receiving from government, a full account of all the funds and their utilisation on the presidential trips. This is public money and not personal money that is utilised on these trips and a full account should be given.”

TIZ demanded that the Secretary to the Treasury and all relevant authorities should give a full account of all Presidential Trips in the last three years, with a clear indication of any reports received for unauthorised and wasteful expenditure. He said information should be provided on sanctions and disciplinary measures taken against all erring officers.

“President Lungu should provide both moral and political leadership and ensure that all these allegations of unauthorised and wasteful expenditure, including outright abuse of resources during presidential trips, are fully investigated and actions taken against all those who maybe found wanting. Fiscal discipline and good financial stewardship should start with the President, and he needs to demonstrate this by firstly streamlining the number of foreign trips taken and secondly, drastically cutting back on the size of his delegations,” said Lifuka.

“The Auditor General, should undertake a special audit of the Presidential travels and the associated imprest and other resources allocated. It is imperative that the Auditor General gives a measure of comfort that public resources allocated for Presidential travels have not been abused but put to good use and are fully accounted for.”

         

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