AG’s report shows growing impunity at the heart of govt operation

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Mildred Chiri

AUDITOR-GENERAL Mildred Chiri has for years been the only lamp that shines the light on government departments and local authorities’ excesses, but the disdain with which her reports have been treated shows the deep corrosion of Zimbabwe’s public financial management system and just how entrenched corruption is in State operations.

Chiri has tabled her 2020 report to Parliament, and it again lays bare the mismanagement of tax dollars by government. It does not make for pretty reading, as it lays bare the mismanagement of public finances by government.

The rot is especially visible in the heart of government finances, the Treasury. In 2020, it recorded foreign direct payments worth US$300 599 941 on behalf of 16 ministries, but there was no reconciliation with the departments.

“I noted that a number of ministries were not aware of these payments and did not acknowledge these transactions. As at November 15, 2021, five line ministries disputed Treasury disbursements from direct payments totalling US$183 638 970,” Chiri’s report says.

What is going on here?

Chiri breaks down some of the direct payments made without the necessary paperwork.

Payments worth US$20,7 million were made to suppliers on behalf of Treasury, but those payments were not reflected in the Public Financial Management System (PFMS), the computerised system used by the government to process payments.

“The Ministry of Finance processed various payments to suppliers of goods and services on behalf of ministries without adequate supporting documentation. For example, direct payments amounting to US$22 024 406, R6 403 830 and 8 359 434 pula were made by Treasury on behalf of the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Resettlement, and Ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development.”

She noted that a number of ministries had expenditure variances between the figures reported in the Appropriation Account and those in the PFMS.

Because these payments were not uploaded to the votes of the line ministries in the PFMS, it means that government’s total expenditure was actually much higher than what it declared to its overburdened taxpayers.

Another recurring theme in Chiri’s report has been that government has been paying for goods that were never delivered, and no one has been following up to make sure the deliveries actually happen.

Twenty-four cars meant for the Information ministry were paid for, Housing (three cars), Justice (three cars), yet not even a single car has been delivered one year later.

The Youth ministry paid for two cars in 2017 and three years later, they had not been delivered. In fact, to all intents and purposes, the ministry simply ignored the issue despite having been raised in the 2019 audit report.

The report also notes that the Tourism ministry paid for 13 laptops, 13 Samsung Galaxy tablets and 50 school desks in 2020. None of these were delivered. And so on, the story goes.

And it appears the ministries are simply ignoring the recommendations made by the Auditor-General. Out of the 161 audit findings that were raised in the 2019 report, only 28% were fully addressed, 17% were partly addressed and 55% were simply ignored.

Dear President Emmerson Mnangagwa, if you want to fight graft, you have all the evidence you need right at your fingertips. There is no excuse for you not to act.