HomeOpinion & AnalysisA clean out urgently needed

A clean out urgently needed


Stir The Pot:Paidamoyo Muzulu

LIFE in Zimbabwe public office seems the most secure thing, no one makes anyone accountable, workers can embezzle and divert funds and be certain to walk away with it. Is it not time that President Emmerson Mnangagwa cracks the whip?

Over the past few weeks, Auditor-General Mildred Chiri produced a number of audit reports. Most of the reports painted a gloomy picture of the magnitude of embezzlement and misappropriation of public funds and an unprecedented level of poor record-keeping.

This is not new. Regrettably, the type of reports have now become routine and ritualistic, a process to tick the boxes. Corruption is now a common song at all public meetings but rarely anything is done to redress it.

The November 2017 coup was supported by large sections of the population who had a false hope that the so-called new dispensation would wipe the political slate clean. In four short years, the euphoria has not only wilted, but the people are now afraid of the monumental levels of asset-stripping and pilfering of public funds without sanction to those implicated. The most worrying aspect of this unaccountability culture is its creeping into national disaster management. Public officials are not afraid to steal from the poor who have nothing during a disaster. The gods have conspired to expose the rotten public service when Zimbabwe experienced Cyclone Idai and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Zimbabwe, like any responsible nation, devised emergency funding to cater for the vulnerable and marginalised during the two disasters. It set out millions of funds and received as much from the development community. However, the majority of the funds or donated goods did not reach their intended beneficiaries.

Chiri in her special audit report on COVID-19 funds said: “The easing of some controls and the streamlining of processes and procedures to facilitate emergency responses and quick actions to the crisis, exposed the government to the possible risks of misuse or abuse of public resources.”

This finding was also found during the Cyclone Idai audit. It seems the rot in the system is worse than what was thought, it has become pervasive. She added: “Inadequate record-keeping was a common feature as the ministries, departments and agencies did not always have updated or reliable information on the donations received and distributed, goods and services delivered and reports on the implementation status of the government initiatives to fight the pandemic.”

Failure to keep records seems well entrenched across government departments, ministries and entities. In her other report on local authorities, Chiri noted that the country’s capital city, Harare does not have an updated asset register. In other words, the city does not know all its assets. I have over the years personally failed to get the asset register for government buildings. No one seems to know where it is. It is now common bar talk that many of the unknown buildings have been occupied by politicians or their cronies on a rent-free basis. I mean houses in leafy suburbs like Highlands, Mount Pleasant and Borrowdale.

The failure to keep records has also extended to an inexplicable failure to compile a register of cash transfer beneficiaries.  Chiri on the disbursement of over $89 022 103 said: “The main reasons that caused the failure were that the processes of identification and assessment of intended beneficiaries was not properly coordinated, resulting in unreliable databases of beneficiaries, processing of payments to duplicate beneficiary names and beneficiaries who had similar identity numbers, but of different gender and dates of birth.”

It is time that Finance minister Mthuli Ncube should be summoned to Parliament and explain what happened to the smart algorithm that Treasury used to find beneficiaries. Ncube misled the nation that his ministry had the capacity to select beneficiaries based on their mobile money wallets. The Public Service ministry should also be taken to task. Keeping a register of the vulnerable, indigents and people who need government grants to make it in life is their onerous task for them, no doubt. It seems the ministry and its department were caught pants down.

Why has the government been afraid to act on the AG’s reports? Why has the Special Anti-Corruption Unit not dug deeper into what seem are open-and-shut cases? And where has the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission been in all these cases?

President Mnangagwa came on the back of a promise to drain the swamp of corruption. Unfortunately, former Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo and two of his ministers — Priscah Mupfumira and Obadiah Moyo — have been fired under a cloud of corruption allegations. Interestingly, the cases are gathering dust at the National Prosecuting Authority probably hoping the people will get distracted and forget about their cases, then probably recycle them back into Cabinet.

Mnangagwa has to act and crack the whip on his minions, but the citizens have not forgotten the Joshi brothers’ episode and are sceptical he can do it. He has been sailing close to shady characters ever since.

However, it’s time to give him the benefit of doubt and that he can find the right path. On Thursday, Mnangagwa launched his biography — A Life of Sacrifice — a title that calls us to ask him to sacrifice a bit and deal with the corruption, embezzlement and misappropriation scourge that has caused havoc to Zimbabwe’s economic fortunes.

It is a sacrifice worth its weight in gold if Mnangagwa can act against his friends and perceived allies who are milking the country dry. It would be great if he would implement the Ernest and Young skills audit report on civil servants that was done at the behest of late Public Service minister Elphas Mukonoweshuro.

Government needs employees who can keep records; records of assets, records of selected beneficiaries and records of all transactions. It is time to have accountable and hardworking civil servants, a moment to clean out the chaff from the service. The big question though
remains, can the President crack the whip or he is a square peg in a round hole?

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