We are surprised to see that the month of March is now in its sunset, but we haven’t seen the Auditor General’s Parastatal Report for 2017, which was supposed to be out some time in December last year. February ended without the Local Authorities Report being released either, as was the case when we had a substantive Auditor General. What is going on?
It’s now over three years since Anna Chifungula left the Office of the Auditor General, and Zambia still has no substantive office holder. In fact, we don’t have a substantive Acting Auditor General. Why is this so? In our view, it is because this government doesn’t regard the Office of the Auditor General as a relevant institution for good governance. Put plainly, this is one way that the PF government is using to kill institutions that are supposed to keep them in check in terms of expenditure and accountability.
If we recall very well, a few days after Acting Auditor General Ron Mwambwa resigned, those in the PF shouted out the loudest, bragging that, “he can go, after all, Zambia is not short of qualified chartered accountants that can take up the position.” They even lied that Mwambwa had reached his retirement age and there was no need to speculate or mourn his departure because the man was on his way out. This was not true because Mwambwa had about three years to go, but he could not just take any more of the nonsense from the PF government.
Ironically, to-date the position of Auditor General is still yearning for a chartered accountant to fill it. As a matter of fact, the institution currently has the top three bosses all acting. There is the acting Auditor General, Acting Deputy Auditor General in charge of Audits and Acting Deputy Auditor General in charge of corporate services. There is nowhere in the world where an institution with such a structure can deliver its mandate.
We are reliably informed that the man who is acting as Acting Auditor General, Mr Davison Mendamenda is not a chartered accountant. In simple English, he doesn’t qualify to Act as Auditor General, not even to act as acting Auditor General. We have no personal issues with the man who is trying to fill the shoes of Mwambwa or later on Anna Chifungula, but there are just some professional tasks that you cannot experiment with.
If you are an agricultural economist, for example, you cannot head the Office of the Auditor General. No matter how good your credentials are as a vet doctor, you cannot perform the tasks of a gynaecologist. A dentist is a dentist; he or she can’t prescribe lenses on behalf of an optician. A failure to appreciate this reality can lead to life-long problems in institutions.
The confusion that is going on at the Auditor General’s Office may appear insignificant to the operations of government, but it has a ripple effect on other institutions that rely on its work. For example, we know that Parliament is one such institution that relies on the reports of the Auditor General to carry out its oversight role. What do such delays in terms of producing the reports by the Office of the Auditor General do to an institution like Parliament?
It is common knowledge that the oversight work which members of parliament would have done under the current sitting without any extra cost will be pushed forward. At the time when Parliament will be on recess, calling back the lawmakers to come and deliberate on the late reports from the Auditor General will cost more money. That is the wasteful expenditure we are talking about.
For the record, in the past, these reports were released, at least, in the first quarter of the year. But things are no longer the same at the Office of the Auditor General. There seems to be serious frustrations going on inside the institution. We are not sure if it’s just the incompetence of Mr Mendamenda or his qualified junior officers are refusing to ‘mend’ him out of jealousy. Whatever the case, the mass exodus of qualified staff, trained at a huge cost to government, is worrying. It takes a lot of time and resources to build staff capacity in institutions at that level. With the prevailing financial crunch, we don’t see government releasing any money for that undertaking.
Those who are defending the status quo at the Office of the Auditor General use a technical excuse that the State Audit Commission has not been operationalized to appoint a substantive Auditor General. But who is supposed to appoint this State Audit Commission? Is it not the Head of State? So, why is President Lungu hesitating to appoint members of this institution?
Our guess is that State House is still headhunting a user-friendly Auditor General, one who will have their back! But while the Head of State has the luxury to do that, the rest of Zambia is losing out. With the status quo at the Office of the Auditor General, we are not surprised to see more and more donors terminating their bilateral support to Zambia because what attracts donors to a nation is a strong and effective Office of the Auditor General.