LESLIE Mbula says there is need to implement punitive laws to stop controlling officers from abusing or mismanaging public funds.

Commenting on Secretary to Cabinet Dr Simon Miti’s statement that 25 controlling officers from various Ministries and provinces were charged and would soon face disciplinary action due to the mismanagement of public funds, Mbula, a former secretary to the cabinet, said the lack of implementation of existing punitive laws had led to increased mismanagement of public funds by controlling officers.

“This is very close to my heart, a proper civil service is extremely close to my heart and I am glad that the Secretary to the Cabinet gave that warning. The more he talked about it, the better, because his permanent secretaries would be aware that if they did something, they would be punished. First of all, this money is given to Zambia, it has been created by people who have sacrificed their comfort to give away that money. Money is given so that it can serve the affected poor people and not to enhance administration. It is not money for administration, but for helping the people that are affected by COVID-19. Anyone who touches resources that are given to help the poor people must be punished because those people (donors) suffered for that money, they could have used it for themselves, but they said, ‘let us help the poor people in poor countries like Zambia, so that the people can benefit’,” Mbula said.

“So for an official who is paid by government to misuse the money, it is not fair! The laws are there, it is just implementation, the laws are very clear that if you steal, you should be prosecuted, but it is the question of implementing that, who is going to implement? If many people are involved in that kind of thing, it starts from the top, middle, then bottom. If we can clean up all these areas, then we can see action. During Mwanawasa’s time, he talked against corruption everywhere he turned, he mentioned that and people were aware that if they do this, this will happen to them. Indeed, there are examples…if you did something, the president took action and you found that fewer people were getting involved in corruption because they knew the consequences. The laws are quite adequate, I can tell you. But it is people to implement and enforce those areas. Enforcement is the weakest area.”

And Mbula called for the arrest and prosecution of all controlling officers found wanting.

“Now, it is also important to realise that sometimes when they say, ‘misuse,’ it’s either it was used for public purposes, but not for the purpose intended, that is not too bad. But someone pockets the money then that is theft, it is not misused. If someone puts the money into his pocket instead of the intended purpose, then they must be dealt with. If the Auditor General could be very specific because sometimes money is not put to the exact use or intended, but it is taken to another use, which is for public interest as far as the Auditor General is concerned. In that case, it becomes difficult to criminalise a person because he didn’t use that money for his personal purpose. But where cases are approved and in fact money was taken into the pockets of an individual, then that is a criminal offence, so that case can be built on the concerned parties,” said Mbula.

“Otherwise, it becomes difficult to prosecute someone who did not use the money for himself, but for government purposes. There are cases where funds are donated and people want to use that money to buy fuel to go to the project; they want to use that money to get talktime so that they can communicate that is abuse, that is misuse. They are supposed to be paid fuel allowances or they are supposed to draw from the government reserve so that they can visit those projects.”