The Comptroller and Auditor-General’s Office Monday said it had no “whip” to crack on government officials and parastatal bosses implicated by its annual audits for misappropriation of funds, embezzlement and other fraudulent activities.
The revelation comes as government plans to separate the country’s supreme public audit authority from the Public Service Commission to enable it to operate autonomously.
Deputy Auditor-General Spears Mutsau also said government accounts were virtually in shambles as transactions were executed outside the public
finance system last year, making it impossible for the “independent” body to meet the deadline for the 2009 audit report on September 30.
“The Comptroller and Auditor-General’s Office has no whip. The Comptroller and Auditor-General’s Office just makes recommendations. But it does not have powers to enforce recommendations,” Mutsau, said in response to a question posed during a one-day conference on public accountability, eliciting measures taken on offenders.
The 2008 audit report exposed gross public finance rot perpetrated by government officials and heads of state-owned enterprises (SOE) who until now are still walking scot-free.
Mutsau added those implicated in the audit report would be dealt with by the authority that “holds the (national) pursestrings ”.
“That power is vested in Parliament,” Mutsau said.
According to procedure, the Comptroller and Auditor-General’s office receives financial reports technically known as returns from administrative bodies such as ministries, SOEs and local authorities and reviews the critical elements of the returns in terms of applicable principles and guidelines.
Comprising an opinion on the work of public accounting officers — permanent secretaries for governments and CEOs or managing directors for SOEs — and a set of recommendations, the audit report is then submitted to Parliament through the Ministry of Finance.
In Parliament, the report is first reviewed by the public accounts committee before it’s tabled before the full House.
At this stage the Ministry of Finance is obliged to produce Treasury minutes detailing the measures and recommendations proposed by Parliament, a copy of which should be submitted to the Comptroller and Auditor-General’s Office.
“The Comptroller and Auditor-General’s Office then uses those Treasury minutes to follow up with accounting officers,” Mutsau added.
“In Zimbabwe, we are experiencing serious challenges with public financial accountability,” Mutsau said.
“Most SOEs rarely submit financial statements on due dates. This has impacted on the work of the Comptroller and Auditor-General’s Office. Some entities’ financial statements are as far behind as 2005/6.
“As I speak right now the Comptroller and Auditor-General’s Office is still auditing financial statements for the year 2009. This is why we will not be able to meet the deadline.”
He added that the promulgation of the Public Finance Management Act and the Audit Act early this year would usher in a new public accountability dispensation for the country.
“We believe the Public Finance Management Act will foster that,” Mutsau said.
“We also believe that the Audit Act will enable the Comptroller and Auditor-General’s Office to operate autonomously.’
The Audit Act seeks to separate the Comptroller and Auditor-General’s Office from the Public Service Commission.
“What is just left is a statutory instrument to operationalise the Act. We expect the President to sign the statutory instrument as soon as possible.”