Long before the Financial Intelligence Center came to grab the limelight as a public accountability watchdog, the Office of the Auditor General used to be Zambia’s most effective institution, reflecting an accurate mirror image of financial mismanagement in government and State Owned Enterprises.
Zambia’s cooperating partners Norway, Sweden, Ireland as well as the World Bank among others, have relied on the Office of the Auditor General to track the use of their donor aid to various government institutions.
We recall that at the time when former Auditor General Anna Chifungula was retiring in December 2015, she was shocked to hear praises from the people who attended her farewell party.
“I didn’t know I still have friends around after 13 years in this job,” Chifungula remarked, sending guests from government institutions into uncontrolled laughter.
We still don’t know to date if that laughter was a reaction to the ‘joke’ or excitement from a group of dishonest friends who were jubilating her exit from the service. One thing we know for certain is that Chifungula was frank, fearless and had stepped on a lot of people’s toes.
She had transformed the Office of the Auditor-General from a peripheral government entity into a household name in Zambia; ensuring that there was transparency and accountability in the management of public resources.
On a number of occasions, Chifungula was quoted criticising the Anti Corruption Commission, among other investigative wings, for failure to prosecute cases highlighted in her audit reports. She once complained that financial embezzlement files submitted to ACC were just collecting dust with no action from the agency.
So when she turned 60 years and the Constitution demanded that she retires, it was understood why Chifungula thought she had no friends left, especially from government institutions.
We also recall that President Edgar Lungu shunned Chifungula’s farewell event at Hotel Intercontinental that evening. Instead, he went to dance at a Multi-Choice organised party at Pamodzi Hotel. This ignited talk that the Head of State did not enjoy a cordial relationship with the Auditor General, and as such it was expected that he was going to appoint a stooge as a successor.
President Lungu however appointed Chifungula’s deputy Ron Mwambwa who was 56 years old at the time, as a successor in an acting capacity. If the revelations contained in the Auditor General’s reports released between 2016 and 2018 are anything to go by, we would say that President Lungu picked a bad stooge. Mwambwa did not stray away from Chifungula’s footsteps.
When the Financial Intelligence Center took out the gloves two years ago and escalated the publicity of its financial crimes cases linked to politically exposed persons, Mwambwa’s audits started augmenting perfectly with the works of the sister government institution.
It can be argued that President Lungu did not confirm Mwambwa as the substantive Auditor General because his reports and those from the Financial Intelligence Center seemed to have ganged up to dent government’s public accountability reputation.
We have been told by PF aligned media that Mwambwa turns 60, this month and the report has created an insinuation that his decision to resign last week was mischievous because he was supposed to retire in two weeks time. Truly, if the Auditor General was two weeks away from retirement age, it would be malicious for him to resign. Of course he reserved the right to quit his government position even a day before being due for retirement, but that would be questionable professional conduct on his part.
We got interested in this PF propaganda and we found that it was all lies. The truth, according to his profile which is in public domain, is that Mwambwa was born on August 15, 1959. Therefore, he is 58 years old, turns 59 in August and still has more than a year before the Constitution can demand that he retires. So why has Ron Mwambwa resigned?
Again, our findings show that he did not have any personal fight with President Lungu. In fact, the President himself confirmed in a statement that the outgoing Auditor General professionally informed him about his intention to resign a couple of weeks ahead of the announcement.
“I had a meeting with the Auditor General prior to his resignation. He told me he was going to Liberia where he would set up an auditing system for that country. I thought that was good for him to go to Liberia because he would be a flag-bearer for Zambia. It is really sad and unfortunate that there is a growing culture among the Zambian society to politicise everything on baseless grounds to gain political mileage. Where are we going as a country with this culture?” asked President Lungu in a press release issued, Friday.
Before we talk about the culture of “politicising everything”, why is our President proud to release the crème de la crème of audit professionals to a foreign country? Mr Mwambwa is credited as a reputable fraud examination expert, public financial management specialist and risk management specialists among other specialties. Why was President Lungu happy to lose his Auditor General to the public sector as a flag-bearer instead of worrying about the vacancy he would leave in the government institution here in Zambia?
Something is amiss here and we do not agree with State House that there is nothing sinister about this resignation. There is something sinister with the Head of State’s decision not to confirm Mwambwa into this position when he used his presidential prerogative to confirm others in similar positions like the Director General of the Anti Corruption Commission.
We have every reason to believe that Mwambwa was frustrated. He found it very difficult to do his job without interference. We recall instances where even the Solicitor General would criticise the Auditor General during parliamentary committee hearing. We recall instances when government officials and the Patriotic Front leadership would rubbish his reports as highly sensational and meant to excite the public.
If Mwambwa wanted, he would have stepped down as Acting Auditor general and remained in his substantive position as deputy Auditor General until he reaches retirement age in 2019. But he could not stand this government institution anymore.
There were plenty of benefits for Mwambwa to stay in that position but he has decided that it’s better to go and deal with Ebola at the epicenter of the epidemic than dealing with aggressive criminal elements in this government.
It is clear that PF is the winner in this situation because Mwambwa was not really loyal to illegal activities. If Zambians think we are wrong, let them wait and see the successor whom President Lungu will appoint.