21 June 2012

Namibia: Local Authorities Don't Keep to Deadlines

Most local authorities are failing to submit their financial statements in a timely manner, data collected from the Auditor General's office reveal.

The deadline for submission of financial statements to the Auditor General is June 30 every year for regional councils and September 31 every year for local authority councils.

In 2006, the only regional council to submit on time was Oshikoto while only Swakopmund, Rundu and Gobabis complied with the the Local Authorities Act.

This information is contained in the new briefing paper 'Risking Corruption: Regional and Local Governance in Namibia' which was introduced in Windhoek yesterday. The paper is a part of the anti-corruption series by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).

According to the paper, only Erongo, Swakopmund and Mariental submitted their financial statements on time in 2007, while in 2008, it was Kavango, Windhoek and Swakopmund.

"In 2009, it was Swakopmund, Mariental and Helao Nafidi that followed their respective laws. In 2010, Karas and Oshana managed to keep to their deadline while Tsumeb, Swakopmund, Gobabis and Mariental also submitted their financials in time," reads the paper.

The paper, compiled by the IPPR's Ellison Tjirera, Malakia Haimbondi and Graham Hopwood states that while one might expect from time to time that councils would have legitimate reasons for late submissions, "the fact that in general almost all local and regional authorities are late suggests there is a systemic problem that has not been addressed".

"It also indicates a lackadaisical approach to record keeping which is underlined by the numerous accounting errors and missing information in the financial statements that are delivered," states the paper.

The IPPR points out that the time that lags between the statutory deadline and the date of delivery of financial statements can be as much as three years.

"In one case, a village council, Witvlei, did not bother to deliver any financial statements for three years. In such cases, any corrupt activities occurring would be almost impossible to unearth due to the complete lack of financial accountability."

The office of the Auditor General attributes both the "tardiness and inadequacy" of much financial reporting at regional and local levels to a lack of capacity, training and skills.

"I think the problem is the issue of capacity. They don't really have the basic accounting background for them to correctly take accounts of transactions happening within the local authority," Deputy Auditor General Goms Menette said of the local authorities.

Asked whether there are any penalties imposed on such authorities for late submissions, Menette said there were none.

"All we do is state in the reports that this authority was supposed to have submitted their reports by a certain time. We are reporting to Parliament and it is for Parliament to decide what to do with the local authorities," he said.

According to the paper by the IPPR, it may be that the envisaged Audit Bill will create a body that can impose sanctions against the worst offenders. "However, there is no timeline for this Bill to be introduced."

The Ministry of Regional and Local Government is also seen as having a crucial role in monitoring and reviewing the governance procedures of local and regional councils and ensuring corrective action is taken when things go wrong. The IPPR recommends that more attention be paid to improve accounting procedures.

"It is clear that urgent attention should be paid to the legal framework to end the current impunity regarding irregular late accounting, which potentially covers up past corruption and enables future graft to take place."

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