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Parliament should monitor enforcement of laws


I had a great opportunity recently to present a paper on the Public Finance Management Act at a meeting of the Parliament of Zimbabwe’s Liaison and Co-ordination Committee, which is a forum of parliamentary committee chairpersons.

The discussion that ensued from my presentation clearly showed the majority of MPs were ignorant of the content of the laws that they pass, thereby explaining why the legislative branch is unable to effectively monitor enforcement of these laws.

The Public Finance Management Act was passed by Parliament towards the end of 2009 and signed into law by the President in March 2010.

This means the statute is now two years old, with very little done so far to enforce it and strengthen the collection of sufficient resources from the economy in an appropriate manner, along with allocation and use of these resources efficiently and effectively.

Just as managing finances is a critical function of management in any organisation, parliamentarians should understand that similarly public finance management is an essential part of the governance process.

What is worrying is that the MPs are not aware of key provisions of the Public Finance Management Act as they relate to the role and powers of Parliament.

The result is that Parliament is unable to participate meaningfully in the entire Budget process despite the existence of an enabling policy and legal framework. The policy and legal framework, therefore, only exists on paper — the same as many other good statutes enacted over the years. A good example is the Domestic Violence Act, which is not being enforced at all.

Let me touch on some of the key provisions relating to the role of Parliament in public finance management. Section 7 spells out the duties and powers of the Finance minister.

The minister is required to ensure full and transparent accounts are from time to time, and not less than annually, made to Parliament.

The minister shall ensure the control of the House of Assembly over public resources is maintained, transparent systems are established, including providing a full account to the House for use of public resources.

I am not sure that a “full account” has been made on how public resources have been used given the serious delays in the submission of audited reports to Parliament. In fact, Section 35 of the Act requires the Finance minister to submit to the House of Assembly audited consolidated annual financial statements within 180 days of the end of the financial year. This means the 2011 audit report must be submitted to the House of Assembly by June 30 2012.

However, the latest audit report tabled in Parliament is for the year 2008. It is, therefore, up to Parliament, especially its Budget and Finance Committee and Public Accounts Committee, to engage the minister on this clear violation of the law.

We have Sections 33 and 34 that deal with the submission of financial statements to portfolio committees of Parliament. Every accounting officer is required by Section 33 to submit quarterly financial statements and reports for submission by the minister to the appropriate parliamentary portfolio committee within 60 days of the end of the respective quarter.

The accountant-general in the Finance ministry shall prepare consolidated quarterly financial statements and shall submit such statements to the secretary of the ministry for presentation by the minister to the House of Assembly and to appropriate parliamentary portfolio committee within 60 days of the end of the respective quarter.

Section 34 goes further to require every accounting officer to submit monthly financial statements and reports for submission by the minister to the appropriate parliamentary portfolio committee within 30 days of the respective month.

The accountant-general shall prepare and transmit to the Comptroller and Auditor-General statements of accounts showing the transactions of the Consolidated Revenue Fund and the financial position of the State within three months after the end of each financial year.

It is clear from these provisions Parliament has been given enough teeth to monitor how the Budget is being implemented. The problem, however, is that the majority of ministries have not complied with these provisions.

Those ministries that have tried to comply have submitted reports very thin on detail, making it virtually impossible for the committees to properly track government expenditures and implementation of programmes funded from the national purse.

One would have expected Parliament to make a lot of noise on this issue of non-compliance. This has not been the case simply because the MPs do not understand the provisions of the laws that they pass. It is a case of laws “passing through Parliament and not passed by Parliament”, as Judge Rita Makarau once remarked.

The challenge to MPs is to thoroughly scrutinise and debate all draft legislation presented in Parliament and not leave this to the few legally-minded or to the portfolio committee the Bill has been referred to.

More time should be given to MPs to consult all interested stakeholders so the final piece of legislation enacted is in the public interest. It is through such thorough analysis and debate that MPs will be able to monitor enforcement of the laws.

Training workshops are needed for all MPs to be familiarised on the provisions of the Public Finance Management Act. It is such an important statute to secure transparency, accountability and sound management of public funds.

John Makamure is the executive director of the Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust writing in his personal capacity.
Feedback: john.makamure@gmail.com

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