Transparency International Zambia (TIZ) president Rueben Lifuka says former acting Auditor General Ron Mwambwa’s resignation to go and serve another country in a similar capacity is an indication that government did not appreciate his efforts.

And Lifuka has questioned government’s animosity towards accountability institutions such as the Financial Intelligence Center and the Office of the Auditor General.

Responding to a press query from News Diggers! Lifuka said it should worry government that a patriotic Zambian who is well qualified would opt to serve another country in a similar capacity at a time when the country was dealing with serious financial crises.

“While we appreciate that Mr Mwambwa, as a public servant is fully entitled to resign if he deems it fit to pursue other career options in Liberia, we are concerned that this is happening at a time when there are a number of allegations of misappropriation, mismanagement, misapplication of public resources, and weak internal controls in public administration. Stability and strong leadership is key in that constitutional office and we are definitely displeased that from the time former Auditor General, Dr Anna Chifungula left office, there has been no substantive person appointed to replace her. Mr Mwambwa has, in extraordinary circumstances, served in an acting capacity and we want to thank him for his valiant contribution in the nearly two years that he has served,” Lifuka said.

He took government to task over the resignation and challenged government to put its house in order.

“We want to take advantage of this occasion to make specific observations and demands to government and these are as follows: 1. The delay in appointing a substantive Auditor General has to some extent, been occasioned by the delay by government in signing the commencement order for the State Audit Commission Act No 27 of 2016 which will subsequently lead to the appointment of Commissioners drawn from key institutions such as the Zambia Institute of Chartered Accountants (ZICA), Law Association of Zambia (LAZ), Economics Association of Zambia (EAZ) among others…”

“The State Audit Commission has an important role to play in recommending the person(s) to be considered for appointment as Auditor General by the Republican President, as provided for in Article 234 of the Constitution of Zambia (Amendment) No 2 of 2016. Clearly, any delays in signing the commencement order for the State Commission has a knock-on effects on the operations and stability of the Office of the Auditor General. We fail to understand the inertia and delay by government in signing the commencement order for the Public Audit. This new Act is important as it seeks to enhance the independence and autonomy of the National Audit Office, which is the new name for the Office of the Auditor General. The Public Audit Act provides for promoting efficiency, accountability, effectiveness and transparency of public administration. This Act further provides for the appointment of the Deputy Auditor General, Auditors and other key staff by the State Audit Commission. The Public Audit Act, has another important provision which address the appointment of external auditors to audit the National Audit Office. In order to endear public confidence in the National Audit Office, it is important that its operations are equally audited, and as far as we know, such an external audit has not been done in the recent past,” Lifuka stated.

Lifuka noted that government’s failure to enact the Public Audit Act could be one of the reasons why Mwambwa chose to resign because it was making his work difficult.

“We want to urge President Lungu and his administration, not to procrastinate the signing of the commencement orders for the two pieces of legislation. It is possible that Mr Mwambwa, like other senior officials in this important office, feel frustrated by the slow progress in implementing these two laws whose remit is to enhance operations and give more clout to what this office does. We find the delay in commencing the establishment of not just the State Audit Commission but other Commissions like the Parliamentary Service Commission, unjustifiable and counter productive. It is the PF government and President Lungu in particular, who went out and formally assented to the Constitution of Zambia Amendment Bill in 2015 and clearly, this government campaigned on the platform of delivering an amended constitution to the people. Now is not the time for government leaders to make a hasty retreat from what they strongly advocated for. If there are any challenges in implementing these Acts of Parliament, government is better placed to take necessary amendments to the National Assembly, rather than sitting on these laws and stifling progress on many fronts,” he stated.

“It is possible that the former Acting Auditor General Mr. Mwambwa, suffered the same sense of frustration as his predecessors due to the inadequate financial and technical support to effectively undertake his role, as well as the lack of follow through on the numerous recommendations, articulately made in different Auditor General’s reports. We urge President Lungu and his team, to introspect and look at how they have received and handled the Auditor General’s reports and the subsequent reports tabled in the National Assembly by the Public Accounts Committee. It is our considered view that while the Auditor General’s reports have carefully highlighted areas of concern in the management of public finances, the lack of meaningful remedial action including legal actions against identified perpetrators, could possibly be a source of great concern and frustration to anyone leading such an important public body. The role of the Auditor General is significant in upholding financial integrity and his/her work should be given the necessary support from all quarters.”

And Lifuka bemoaned government’s animosity towards key governance institutions like the Financial Intelligence Centre and the Auditor General’s office.

“The Executive should be in the forefront of supporting key governance and accountability institutions like the Auditor General’s office, Controller of Internal Audit, Public Protector’s Office, Financial Intelligence Centre, Anti Corruption Commission etc, even when these institutions render reports that are not favourable to the Executive and government in general. These institutions stand in the gap as watchdogs for the general populace and their role should be seen as a vital cog in the wheels of democracy. The recent public lambasting and attacks on the Director General of the Financial Intelligence Centre, unfortunately, sends wrong signals to other Chief Executives of key public bodies like the Auditor General and definitely has instilled a sense of fear and insecurity,” he stated.

“Surely, it should be a matter of concern that a patriotic Zambian, who is well qualified, would opt to serve another country and not his own at this crucial moment. This may be a subtle indication of a general lack of appreciation of his efforts and he probably reckons his talents and expertise will be better served elsewhere than in his homeland. We therefore call on President Lungu and his administration, to re-calibrate its approach and relationship with all key public institutions – the principle that should be upheld by all is that these institutions do not exist to serve the leaders’ narrow personal interests but work in trust for the common good of the people of Zambia.”

And Lifuka hoped that Mwambwa’s resignation would not affect the release of the Auditor General’s 2017 report.

“A vacuum in the office of the Auditor General’s Office will affect a number of important governance and accountability processes, particularly the preparation of the 2017 Audit Report, which according to the Constitution should be submitted to the Republican President and the National Assembly, not later than nine months after the end of the financial year. This means that by end of September, the Audit Report for 2017 should be ready for submission. We sincerely hope that this resignation will not affect this process and we will not go back to the old scenario where the Auditor General’s report was behind schedule by many years and this made it difficult to follow up on wrong doers cited in the reports as some may have moved from their previous appointments, others retired or indeed passed away. It is cardinal that this situation is remedied as soon as possible by the Executive,” stated Lifuka.