8 May 2018

Zambia: Empower the Auditor General to Act On Abuse of Funds in Councils

opinion

The latest report from the Office of the Auditor General has again revealed shocking audit findings on operations of local authorities in the country for the years 2014, 2015 and 2016.

The report which was made public last week, audited selected councils and shows that 12 of the local authorities did not prepare financial statements for the period under review contrary to Section 52 of the Local Government Act.

Further, the Report shows that seven councils were operating without a strategic plan. And although the cited councils owned various assets 22 did not have title deeds for their properties.

Other issues contained in the report include non-remittance of statutory contributions to the National Pension Scheme Authority (NAPSA), Local Authorities Superannuation Fund (LASF) and Pay As You Earn PAYE) to the Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA), unsupported payments, unaccounted for assets, irregular procurements, questionable payments and failure to settle retirees' benefits among others irregularities.

These are shocking revelations and raise serious concern to citizens.

It is unacceptable that year in-year-out, serious audit findings are made public, but nothing concrete seems to be done to stop the looting of public resources.

The situation has been exacerbated by the fact that individuals tasked to oversee public resources have in some cases seemingly struggled to substantiate the unashamed misuse of funds meant for public service delivery.

For instance, in many cases, every time controlling officers are brought before the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) they openly fail to explain how, why, when, what or who was involved in the abuse of the public funds from their respective offices.

Issues such as non-recovery of salary advances and loans, irregular payments, unretired imprest, wasteful expenditure and overpayments are high-flying features in the current and previous Auditor General's Reports.

The Office of Auditor General, despite facing challenges in operation, should be praised for its outstanding efforts in keeping the public abreast with various audit findings against public funds.

We are of the view that empowering the Auditor General with prosecuting powers is the much needed reform needed is to ensure that when the Report is released, it is circulated to all appropriate investigative wings for immediate action.

Further, we are dismayed to read that in the latest General Auditor's Report, 16 payment vouchers amounting to close to K381,026 went missing at the Livingstone City Council in Southern Province and these were not availed for audit.

We take cognizance of the fact that this is contrary to the Local Authorities Financial Regulation No. 98 (1) as revealed by the report.

We are of the view that remedial measures should therefore be enforced in a bid to cut back the increased cases of mishandling of public resources as revealed by the report.

In the face of economic hardship, we feel this is retrogressive to Government's efforts meant to provide efficient service and alleviate suffering among the poor in communities.

We say this because in many instances, funds meant for public benefit such as implementation of a project, only end up in a personal pocket.

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