Transparency International Zambia says it seems procurement of goods which never get delivered has become the norm and a vehicle to siphon money from public coffers.

Commenting on the 2019 Auditor General’s report in a statement, Monday, TIZ executive director Maurice Nyambe said lack of action in holding erring officers accountable remained a great concern.

“Transparency International Zambia (TI-Z) welcomes the release of the 2019 Auditor General’s report with some reservations. We are cognizant of the Office of the Auditor General (OAG) being of critical importance to Zambia’s quest for good public finance management, and while it is commendable that over the years, the OAG has been consistent in pointing out rampant abuse of public resources by different government ministries, departments and agencies, the lack of action to hold erring officers accountable remains a great concern to us and other stakeholders,” Nyambe said.

Nyambe said it was shocking that in the 2019 Report the amount lost due to undelivered materials grew by more than 100 percent in each of the last three years.

“TI-Z has done a comprehensive analysis of the 2019 Audit report, and has further made comparisons with the previous two reports (2018 and 2017) in order to observe any trends that may have emerged with regard to the issues regularly raised in the reports. Based on this analysis, we are gravely concerned about the extent to which there continues to be impropriety in many aspects of our public finance management, and we wish to share some examples to that effect: Undelivered materials: In the 2017 audit, ZMW1,486,568 was reported as having been lost through undelivered materials, rising to ZMW9,195,241 in 2018,” Nyambe said.

“In the latest report, this has grown to an astounding ZMW23,510,118. TI-Z finds this trend, where the amount lost due to undelivered materials has been growing by more than 100 percent in each of the last three years, to be totally unacceptable. Our considered view is that this could imply that corruption levels have significantly increased in public institutions and that control measures have largely broken down or are simply not adhered to. It could also imply that procurement of goods which never get delivered has become the norm and a vehicle to siphon money from public coffers.”

He wondered why the status of misappropriation of funds in the 2019 Report was not given.

“Failure to follow procurement procedures: A mixed picture is seen on this score: the 2017 audit reflects high levels of failure to follow procurement procedures with ZMW1,051,686 being lost. This reduced significantly in 2018 to ZMW504,500, but has again risen in the 2019 report to stand at ZMW879,000. Our concern here is that the recurrence of this trend in 2019 suggests that whatever mechanisms were in place that contributed to the improvement in 2018 either broke down or were not adhered to, leading to failure to deter the anomaly from recurring and increasing in 2019,” he stated.

“Wasteful expenditure: The 2017 audit report reflected very high expenditures which were considered wasteful, amounting to ZMW7,865,395. Although this amount remarkably reduced in 2018 to ZMW222,534, in the latest report, it has increased exponentially to stand at ZMW3,730,864. TI-Z’s concern is that the inconsistent patterns and changes from year to year suggest that there are ineffective systems, poor internal controls and mechanisms that fail to consistently function to improve expenditure monitoring and tighten wasteful expenditure in public institutions. In addition to the three examples given above, TI-Z notes with suspicion that the 2019 audit report does not give the status on misappropriation of funds, which stood at ZMW5,036,051 in 2017 and ZMW61,354 in 2018. We urge the OAG to provide an explanation for why such an important aspect of public finance management has not been reported on, entailing that the current status cannot be ascertained.”

Nyambe said the failure to prosecute those implicated in the abuse of public funds was a weakness which was being taken advantage of by public officers.

“Generally, TI-Z’s trends analysis of the last three reports has highlighted several systemic, procedural and administrative challenges in government ministries, departments and agencies, such as: failure to consistently produce bank reconciliations; poor oversight and internal controls; and poor record keeping, all creating the conditions for officers with ill intentions to misappropriate and abuse public funds. TI-Z is of the considered view that comprehensive administrative reforms should be effected in these government entities in order to bring improvements in internal controls in line with the Public Finance Management Act of 2018,” stated Nyambe.

“Beyond this, we have noted that there tends to be little or no follow up action to prosecute public officers who are identified as having engaged in financial misconduct such as misappropriation of funds and wastage of expenditure among others. Our hope as TI-Z is that this will start to change with the 2019 report, and we demand that action be taken against erring officers identified as being involved in this blatant financial misconduct. The tendency to only highlight anomalies without any mechanisms for follow up action, including failure to prosecute those implicated, is a weakness that is being taken advantage of by public officers, who continue to engage in mismanagement and theft of public resources with impunity. TI-Z therefore calls for a full investigation into all the cases of financial and other misconduct revealed in the 2019 Auditor General’s report, and for all culprits involved to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. We cannot as a country continue to give a free pass to people that are abusing our resources for their own selfish purposes at the expense of good service delivery for millions of Zambians who need those very resources to improve their livelihoods.”