When you talk about a control framework for financial crimes, some measures are preventative and detective, while others are reactive and corrective through the court processes. The detective measure is what the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) does for this country. They tell us who has moved which money and to where; in some cases they share educated analyses on why a given amount of money was paid to who.
The current economic challenges that Zambia has are as a result of paying very little attention towards preventive measures of financial crimes. Whenever the FIC releases the Trends Report, people suddenly wake up to say: “where are the law enforcement agencies?” But that is a reactive approach, and usually, it’s too late.
History tells us that once a corruption deal goes through, criminals make sure that they oil everyone up the investigative chain of command in order to get away with the criminality. If lifestyle audits were to be conducted on employees of investigative wings, people would be shocked to see how corrupt the whole system is!
Our point is that reactive or corrective measures of preventing corruption, theft and other financial crimes have proved impossible to work in Zambia. What we need is a robust controlling mechanism that can arrest the abuse of funds before criminals lay their long fingers on public resources.
There are these people in government we call controlling officers, who are responsible for managing how spending agencies and government departments, utilize funds. It is time we questioned the role of these controlling officers in the financial irregularities that our country has been battling with for years.
We have observed that there are three categories of controlling officers. There are controlling officers who are completely ignorant. These are simple ruling party cadres, some of whom have nothing more than forged doctorates. This means they completely have no capacity to do their job, but they’re in charge of controlling funds in a government ministry. Because these people are ignorant, crimes are committed under their noses and they don’t even know – they are controlling officers who control nothing.
There is another category of controlling officers, who are well informed, they know the job and have the capacity to supervise the prudent use of public resources, but they give theft a blind eye because they are afraid to do their jobs. These are controlling officers, who love this country, but they love their comfort more, so they deliberately look the other side, while long hands dip their sticky fingers into public coffers. In other words, these are controlling officers who are controlled.
Then there is a third category of controlling officers who are literally thieves themselves! These are the hard-core controlling officers who only take issue if someone steals more than them. They work in shifts with their cohorts in government who have similar but superior preoccupations. Once they steal enough from one place, their theft supervisors transfer them to a different department. Today, you will see them serving as Permanent Secretaries in this Province, next you hear that they have been moved to a Disaster Management Unit to control funds there.
All these three types of controlling officers feature in the Auditor General’s report and they are also appearing in the latest Financial Trends Report. Why have we come to this situation where we can have ignorant, unethical thieves in charge of controlling funds? It’s because that is the mechanism that the current rulers of this country have purposely put in place for their own benefit.
The public must focus on these individuals because they are the culprits who have brought us where we are as a country – where millions are going missing, but no one is going to jail. Doesn’t it surprise anyone that a Cabinet Minister can be arrested on suspicions that he abused his authority of office to earn an illegal income, yet the Permanent Secretary, who is the Controlling Officer for the same Ministry, stays untouched?
This is what brings us back to the helpless role that our law enforcement agencies are expected to play in the control framework of public resources. Their involvement is too late when the crimes have already been committed. Expecting the investigative wings and the Judiciary to deter would-be offenders is worthless because there are no control mechanisms in place to prevent the recurring thefts.
What we are saying is that, the national debate around the revelations in the Financial Trends Report must be focused on where the real problem is. We have controlling officers who are ignorant, wilfully blind and outright thieves! That is where the problem is, and that is the problem that we must address.
Put simply, it’s like having a security guard at your house that either sleeps on duty because he is not fit for the job, or allows thieves to break in and steal because he has no capacity to prevent them, or literally breaks in himself to steal when you are asleep, because you employed a thief to protect your property. It doesn’t make sense at all.
What we have in Zambia is a situation where controlling officers have no capacity to control anything or they are thieves, employed to prevent theft. Unfortunately, there is no one up the ladder who can clean up this mess because the appointing authority is also appearing next to the appointees in the financial crimes report. What a shame!