Public finance law: Step to prudent use of resources

EMELDA Musonda.

THE recent issuance of Statutory Instrument (SI) number 42 of 2018 which brings into effect Public Finance Management Act No.1 of 2018 is not only long overdue but a critical step in ensuring prudent management of public resources.It is not a secret that for many years we have struggled as a country to curb the abuse and misuse of public resources by public workers.
The Auditor General’s report has year in, year out channelled out depressing reports of misappropriation, misapplication or misuse of public funds by public workers.
Many stakeholders, including the head of State, have come out strong demanding for the prosecution of culprits.
However, the Auditor General’s hands and those of law enforcers remained tied due to lack of adequate legislation to take action against offenders.
This relegated the Auditor-General’s annual report to a mere academic exercise aimed at just informing the public.
Some unscrupulous public workers took advantage of the gap in legislation to continue engaging in wanton abuse of public resources.
This has deprived the country of resources critical to effective and efficient service delivery and subsequently accelerating the development agenda.
For a country like ours which still has a long way to go in its development journey, the importance of prudent use of the limited resources cannot be overemphasised.
As a country we are still at a stage where the available resources are not even enough to cater for all the needs across sectors.
To supplement our annual budget, we still depend on both external and internal borrowing.
This is evidence 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.
As a country that is in a hurry to develop, it cannot be business as usual. We cannot allow greedy, irresponsible and unpatriotic public workers to continue mismanaging our limited and much-needed resources.
It is therefore commendable that Government has effected a new law through issuance of SI number 42 aimed at penalising 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.
It is time those with sticky hands faced the wrath of the law. Since the new law also has a component of financial misconduct, it will help deter would-be offenders.
“It is envisaged that with effective enforcement of the Public Finance Management Act No. 1 of 2018, transparency and accountability in public finance management in Zambia will tremendously improve. Incidences of misuse and theft of public resources will also be reduced and ultimately eliminated,” Minister of Finance Margaret Mwanakatwe said.
Under the new law, a person found wanting will be penalised if he or she opens or causes to be opened any bank account for public or official use or borrows money on behalf of a public body.
Other offences include: If a person converts an existing loan or issues public securities, or varies the terms and conditions of the issued public security, lends money or any assets of a public body and issues securities for loans made to the public body.
While it is commendable that finally we have legislation to help uphold prudent management of public resources, it is important to ensure enforcement.
Positive results are only guaranteed if we have committed people who will ensure that all cases exposed are followed through to their conclusion.
At policy level we have scored high, but we need to ensure that we do the same even at implementation level. This is where controlling officers come in.
And instead of just looking out for erring public workers, it is also important to ensure that internal controls are strengthened.
One way of doing so is through capacity building to ensure that all relevant staff are highly knowledgeable of the Integrated Financial Management Information System (IFMIS), an accounting system used in Government.
And now that the Public Finance Act is in effect, ignorance cannot stand as a defence for any erring officer.
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.
All in all, the Public Finance Act, if well enforced, will ensure transparency and accountability in public finance management, thereby leading to effective and efficient service delivery and, subsequently, development.
The author is Zambia Daily Mail editorials editor.

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