If there is one government institution in Zambia that is performing to the satisfaction of almost every citizen, it is the office of the Auditor General. While the performance of the Anti Corruption Commission is condemned by all, including the President, the office of the Auditor General has been above board.
Elsewhere, Zambians have had difficulties appreciating the accomplishments of the Judiciary. If it’s the police, we can’t even repeat the things citizens say about them without getting arrested ourselves; but all are full of praise for this office of the Auditor General.
For many years now, the office of the Auditor General has been publishing in it’s annual reports, millions of kwacha stolen by public servants; millions of kwacha misapplied and millions of dollars paid to contractors without any work being done. Unfortunately, these revelations and audit queries have achieved nothing other than being a treasured accumulation of government stationery.
There will be a few headlines in a few newspapers once the Auditor General’s report is out, but after that, everybody moves on. Just like that, taxpayers’ money, donor aid is gone and life continues. Meanwhile, the criminals in the public service are getting fatter as they wait to reap some more in the next reap year!
We have seen controlling officers summoned to Parliament, queried and rebuked for wasting public resources, but their answer is always “sorry for the irregularities, we promise to do better next time”. The following year, the Auditor General reveals double the misappropriation of funds in the same ministry and the new controlling officer throws the blame on the previous guy. The circle of plunder goes on and on without culprits being brought to book.
Meanwhile, we have the police, Drug Enforcement Commission and the Anti Corruption Commission looking on and taking no interest in the crimes.
Others have argued that the Auditor General’s office makes it easy for plunderers to escape the net of accountability because by nature, the reports are too generalized for any public servant to feel pressurised or exposed. Perhaps they are right.
That is why today we have taken the pleasure of applauding Auditor General Ron Mwambwa and his team of hard working auditors, for giving a detailed insight into how taxpayers’ money is stolen by our brothers and sisters who are privileged to work in government.
According to the Auditor General’s investigations, one civil servant in the Ministry of General Education paid himself K2,577,055 in 2016, and there is no explanation as to why he was paid. How did this happen?
According to bank statement dates, a named Lawrence Bwalya Phiri paid himself K240,600 on January 29, 2016 using initials “L Phiri”. On April 4th the same employee swapped initials to “L Bwalya P” and got paid K290,500. To conceal his fraud in the third transaction, Bwalya changed his initials to “LB Phiri” and got 320,000 on the 14th of the same month. This went on and on throughout the year. Meanwhile, Bwalya’s workmates Moses Thole and Sibajene followed the same strategy and together they got K3,448,572 in total from government coffers.
To put this into perspective, this amount of money would pay salaries for about 100 basic school teachers for a year. It was enough to build an entire school and sponsor all the pupils from grade one to university. K3,448,572 is more than the pension of the three culprits combined.
We demand answers! First of all, there is no civil servant who can open a government account alone, and once opened, there is no single accountant who can withdraw money from it. There are procedures involved. A government bank account is not like a personal account where you can easily Xapit some cash to your girlfriend. It’s not like you can just wake up and eWallet yourself some money.
There has to be a backing sheet explaining details of the payment to be made; there has to be approval from the Permanent Secretary as controlling officer, there has to be at least two authorised signatures for the cheque to clear and most importantly, the Ministry of Finance has to facilitate these payments.
So, who was monitoring this account and why did they not sound the alarm after seeing this mysterious movement of funds throughout the year? For instance, M. Thole and I. Sibajene used facing leafs of the cheque book, thus number 428138 and 428139 to draw K308,250 and K296,472 respectively on the same date; January 14, 2016. No explanation was given to the auditors regarding the purpose of these two payments. Clearly this is stealing with permission, with blessings.
How could it be that K3.4 million disappeared from a government account and no one complained? This doesn’t happen by accident. Yes, there is serious looting of public funds, especially in this particular government, but no one person can access this amount of money from a ministry account without someone bigger involved in the hierarchy to cover up the fraud.
It is not usual for the Auditor General to name individuals in their audit reports, but we strongly believe that this was done on purpose. We believe that the auditors found this completely outrageous and too huge a fraud to conceal.
We feel the Auditor General is trying to help the police, Drug Enforcement Commission and other law enforcers in pursuing this matter. The full names of the culprits are clearly indicated in the 2016 report. The dates are there, and so are the cheque numbers and amounts. Surely, even a constable with no special training in financial crimes investigations wouldn’t take a day to locate LP Bwalya and his accomplices at the Ministry of General Education.
But do we see this happening? No! This crime is too complicated and too sensitive for our police to get involved. They fear for their jobs. LP Bwalya will walk away scot-free with an unexplained K2.5 million.
But if he had posted on Facebook “Lungu is a thief”, he would have been behind bars by now.