Editor's Comment

Sensitise public officers on finance law

FOR many years Zambia has struggled to curb the abuse, misuse and misapplication of public resources by public workers.
This has been reflected in the Auditor General’s annual reports.
The Auditor-General’s office has year in, year out churned out depressing reports of misappropriation, misapplication or misuse of public funds by public workers.
This has deprived the country of resources critical to effective and efficient service delivery and subsequently accelerating the development agenda.
For a developing country like Zambia, with so many competing needs against limited resources, the need for prudent use of the limited resources cannot be overemphasised.
The country is still at a stage where the available resources are not even enough to cater for all the needs across sectors.
For instance, to meet the annual budget, Government has to depend on both external and internal borrowing.
This validates the fact that the national coffers are not sufficient to support every need and sector.
Given such a situation, it is imperative that the available funds, some of which are borrowed, are used for the intended purposes and to the maximum benefit of the nation.
It is for this reason that Government issued Statutory Instrument (SI) number 42 of 2018 which brought into effect Public Finance Management Act No.1 of 2018 to curb the bleeding of public funds.
The Act provides for an institutional and regulatory framework for management of public funds through:
• Strengthening of accountability and oversight;
• Defining responsibilities and fiduciary duties of controlling officers and controlling bodies;
• Enhancing cash management systems in the public sector to ensure efficiency and effectiveness;
• Enhancing processes for efficient production of the national financial report;
• Management and control of public assets and stores, among others.
SI number 42 also provides for penalisation of public workers found guilty of misusing and abusing public resources.
The law, which is aimed at eliminating misuse and theft of public funds, stipulates that any person who breaches it is liable to a fine, suspension, demotion, dismissal or prosecution depending on evidence and gravity.
While it is good that the country has legislation to help uphold prudent management of public resources, it is worrying that reports of mismanagement are still rife.
What is shocking is that despite some civil servants being suspended, expelled and prosecuted in the courts of law, others are still engaging in fraudulent activities.
While for some it is out of their deviant nature, we cannot rule out the possibility of others engaging in such activities out of ignorance of the financial law and public management processes.
This is why we could not agree more with the Parliamentary Accounts Committee on the need for controlling officers to educate their subordinates on Public Finance Management Act to reduce misapplication and misappropriation of funds meant for development.
It is not possible to effectively implement and enforce public finance law if those it is targeted at are ignorant.
All stakeholders – public workers and all those individuals that either directly or indirectly deal with any public sector entity – need to familiarise themselves with this piece of legislation.
It is not enough to have the Public Finance Management Act in place. There is also need for effective implementation.
And there can be no effective implementation if the implementers are ignorant of what needs to be implemented.
Those who follow PAC sittings will also bear witness that some people are caught in misappropriation and mismanagement of public funds due to ignorance.
It is also possible that those in higher authorities thrive on the ignorance of their subordinates to abuse public funds.
Controlling officers across all ministries have a daunting task to ensure that public officers under them are well versed in the contents of Public Finance Management Act to stop misuse and theft of public resources. After all, the buck stops with these same controlling officers.

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