Editor's Comment

It’s time to spend wisely

IT IS immoral to be wasteful when you have resources in abundance.  So to be just as careless when resources are limited is not only wicked, but also a serious crime that can be equated to strangulation.
In a way, this is the message that President Edgar Lungu is sending out to all those tasked to manage Zambia’s resources.
Before the advent of COVID-19, Zambia’s coffers were low and the demand for prudent use of resources then was paramount.  Now, with COVID-19 wreaking havoc on all sectors of the economy, resources have dwindled even further.
Every ngwee matters much more now than ever before. Not only must it be accounted for, but it must be spent on priorities that make sense in these circumstances. The priority lists have to be revised.
The President’s call to the Office of the Auditor General to ensure prudence in the use of national finances is timely. It also goes to all controlling officers in the various ministries, government departments and spending agencies.
In the wake of the novel coronavirus, the country’s economic activities have been constrained, as production levels of goods and services in the economy have gone down.
Zambia is no longer trading with other countries as much as it did just a few months ago. The impact is evident.  Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) is collecting less, yet the demand for social services keeps rising, not to mention the fixed costs such as salaries for public service workers.
Some sectors of the economy have been closed down to slow down the spread of the virus. The revenue tap has either closed completely or there is just a trickle coming through.  This is a precious trickle which has to be used wisely.
With this slow-down in the economy, the circulation of money has reduced. Many entities in the economy cannot afford to meet their tax obligations to Government through ZRA.
And if the revenue authority cannot raise enough revenues to finance the budget, the use of public finances requires significant adjustments.  You can only spend what you have.
COVID-19, coupled with severe droughts and floods that have ravaged some parts of Zambia, has negatively impacted the smooth implementation of the 2020 national budget.  Revenue has dwindled, and inevitably so, too, should expenditure.
President Lungu has emphasised that it is at this critical time that auditors should upscale their dedication to duty by ensuring prudent utilisation of the meagre government resources and strict compliance to public finance management guidelines, of which auditing plays a significant role.
COVID-19 has on the other hand attracted a lot of goodwill locally and internationally.
Business houses, non-governmental organisations, individuals and cooperating partners have donated cash and materials to help Government fight the disease.
All donations, which too become public resources, have to be accounted for.
It is for this reason that the President wants the Office of the Auditor General to play a role and ensure that public finances are directed towards service provision.
However, as the President has stated, the relevant authorities must quickly outline new spending lines to fit the new normal of a constrained budget.
This will help the auditors provide guidelines on what is the new prudence of spending, understanding that the COVID-19 crisis has also spun into play various demands for money to be spent where the 2020 budget was not even foreseen or planned for.
The flurry of donations in monetary form by various well-wishers sometimes get to public institutions through systems that are outside government accountability structures and it is expected that they would be hurriedly expended.
This is another area where the auditors must extend operations in implementing the directive to ensure the money is spent on intended purposes of fighting COVID-19. Remedial measures should therefore be enforced to cut back the increased cases of mishandling of public resources as highlighted by the AG’s report annually.
Auditors have to work extremely hard to help Government reduce incidences of audit queries.
That is why, as President Lungu has said, there is urgent need to further tighten controls in the application and management of public service resources.
Zambia just has to cut the coat according to the cloth available.

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