If Cabinet Ministers, who illegally overstayed in office in 2016, do not comply with the ConCourt ruling, there will be consequences, Deputy Secretary to the Cabinet Dr Christopher Mvunga has warned.

And Dr Mvunga says the huge debt arrears that government owes amounting to over K17 billion is tantamount to financial indiscipline further noting that there is a gap in terms of effective expenditure control.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Directors of Finance Workshop held under the theme: ‘Commitment to effective Management of Public Resources to Achieve Results by Doing More With Less’, Dr Mvunga insisted that all ministers and deputy ministers, who overstayed in office illegally prior to the 2016 general election, must repay the money they had accumulated during their illegal stay in office.

“When did the judgment come out, last week? What is there to write about? It’s a court judgement; you have got to comply with it. It’s a court ruling, it’s incumbent upon everyone to comply; if you don’t comply with the court ruling, there are consequences to it. So, it’s both an obligation on the individuals to ensure that that court ruling is….but speak to the Ministry of Justice, they will advise better whether they are appealing or whether they will take the judgment as it is. And I am one of them affected by it,” Dr Mvunga told journalists at the Mulungushi International Conference Centre in Lusaka, Monday.

And Dr Mvunga said the huge arrears government owed to suppliers and contractors amounting to over K17 billion was tantamount to financial indiscipline, further noting that there is a gap in terms of effective expenditure control.

“Effective debt management is key to sound financial management. As heads of accounting units, you must adhere to procedures and regulations with respect to accounting and reporting on debt management. Now, debt in itself, I think as accountants, you understand because the general public thinks debt is eurobonds. Debt is even accruing in day-to-day operations, the creditors we owe money, that’s debt. The payroll itself is debt because it’s an obligation to the employees of government, so when we talk about debt, we talk about debt, holistically, both capital debt and operational debt that the Ministries incur. And I think there was directive issued by the Ministry of Finance during the budget presentation or during austerity measures that we should not contract debt where we don’t have funds available to repay that debt,” he explained.

“Vis-à-vis, if you are holding a workshop and funds are not available, don’t go and engage the suppliers when you know you don’t have money to pay for it! That’s what we are talking about: huge arrears of somewhere around K17 billion and if you really think about from a financial management perspective, that’s really financial indiscipline! You don’t spend what you don’t have.”

He said that he did not expect audit queries from government ministries and spending agencies going forward as directors had now been given the influence they advocated for.

“So, when I see audit queries, myself, I actually don’t blame the Permanent Secretaries; I blame the directors of finance! I understand when we were in Livingstone, they were those that came to lobby that they were failing to execute their duties because you are low in the radar, you are reporting to human resource director and it didn’t give you the capacity to influence the decisions as you desired. We then understood and heard what you said and hence the reason why the positions were elevated to director of finance. So, my expectation is that there will be no excuses going forward in terms of audit queries and how we manage public finances,” he recalled.

“I have also observed, as an individual, that we can mobilise as much revenues as we can, but we need to monitor as well because these things go in tandem, and it is clear from where we sit that we have still got a gap in terms of effective expenditure control. We have seen ridiculous things happen; I have seen my office receive requests for workshops for 60 days and then I ask myself: ‘60 working days out of 220 days in a year, when do you work?’ I mean, practically, are you studying for an MBA or what for you to need 60 days to be away from the office?”

Dr Mvunga urged finance directors as custodians of public resources to play their role as gatekeepers of the Financial Management Act, 2018.

“The expertise in terms of managing public finances in the ministries and government spending agencies resides in yourselves, whilst the permanent secretaries, as the controlling officers, will expect to derive the expertise and knowledge from yourselves. So, you are the custodians, the gatekeepers of the Public Finance Management Act, and your role is one that should advise the PS when you think they are going against what the Act is saying. So, your role is quite critical. Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, due to the fiscal challenges the country is experiencing, Cabinet has put in place a number of austerity measures in order to do more with less. Heads of accounting units, being custodians of public funds, are instrumental in ensuring that all the austerity measures are being complied with. In this regard, the Accountant General is urged to monitor levels of compliance of all heads of accounting units to austerity measures that have been pronounced. The expectation of Cabinet and government is that accountants will provide informative reports and accurate account information that will result in compliance to austerity measures,” said Dr Mvunga.