Raise bar for accountability

THE directive by Secretary to the Cabinet, Dr Simon Miti, for all Ministries, Provinces and Other Spending Agencies to ensure zero audit queries and total adherence to public financial management procedures and other laid down protocols is the way to go and must be adhered to without fail.
It is a known fact that management of public resources has been one of the problematic areas due to failure by those responsible to adhere to public finance procedures and other laid down protocols.
Year-in-year-out, the Auditor-General’s report brings to the fore cases of financial misappropriation and misapplication in various public institutions.
The picture painted by these annual reports is not a good one at all. This is much more that we are developing country with a limited resource basket.
Under the circumstances, it is expected and prudent to ensure that all resources are utilized for the intended purpose and in a way that grants maximum value for the country.
It is expected that high levels of accountability and transparency are upheld in resource application and all levels of governance.
To promote accountability and transparency Government has over the past years put in place various measures.
In 2018, Government enacted the Public Finance Management Act replacing the Public Finance Act (2004), with an overarching objective of improving transparency and accountability in public financial management. The act also aims to improve revenue generation and resource allocation.
Other measures put in place by government include these four:
One – The operationalisation of the Integrated Financial Management Information System (IFMIS) and the Treasury Single Account (TSA) system aimed at improving expenditure controls and fiscal reporting among MPSAs;
Two – The obligations of the Treasury to set revenue targets for all MPSAs and empowers the Secretary to the Treasury to act on non-performing Controlling Officers and Controlling bodies;
Three – Rules with regards to the management and disposal of public assets and stores;
Four -The Auditor General’s scope of audits extended to value for money and other specialised audits.
In its continued quest to further improve transparency, accountability and resource allocation, Government also implemented other technology-based platforms such as the Procurement System aimed at achieving end-to-end automation of the procurement process to further improve efficiency and transparency in the whole process.
This is because procurement is one of the areas through the leakage of public resources occurs.
The Zambia Public Procurement Authority oversight has also been strengthened to improve accountability and transparency in public resource utilization.
Due to all these measures, there has been a great improvement in public financial management. For instance the Auditor General’s report indicated that the value of financial mismanagement reduced by 79 percent from K939 million in 2015 to K193 million in 2017.
While this is good progress, it is not good enough. Where public financial management is concerned, there should be a much higher level of accountability.
Actually there must be total accountability for every kwacha that is spent. Those responsible for handling these funds must understand that there is no insignificant leakage of finances especially if it happens consistently.
If public resources keep on leaking from various points no matter how small the amounts, these cumulatively translate into huge amounts.
This is why we agree with the Secretary to Cabinet that actually the standard for financial management should be zero audit queries.
This is achievable as long as controlling officers in these institutions stick the public financial management regulations and procedures provided for.
Audit queries arise because people chose to cut corners and ignore the existing systems and protocols.
In some instances audit queries arise because the controlling officers are too lazy to follow through matters they should be in charge of.
Such public officials must wake up from slumber because duty calls.
We implore all controlling officers in public institutions to raise the bar of accountability and public financial management by adhering to the directive by the Secretary to the Cabinet.
At a time when the country is going through economic hurdles, there’s need to ensure prudent utilization of the meagre resources and this calls for high levels of accountability by controlling officers.