Nick Mangwana View from the Diaspora
The Auditor General has been issuing one report after another. When these started the reports were very headline grabbing because they exposed a lot of graft and abuse of office.
A healthy economy is by far the best empowerment policy any one can have.
This is so because when an economy is thriving, then there is enough wealth to empower everyone with.
There are enough financial resources around to give without depriving. But for the economy to thrive there should be collective responsibility by all well-meaning Zimbabweans to make it happen. And that means there should be sacrifices.
The Auditor-General has been issuing one report after another. When these started the reports were very headline grabbing because they exposed a lot of graft and abuse of office. As they continued to come out week after week, the Zimbabwean people couldn’t be bothered anymore. They seemed to have surrendered themselves to the reality that those in position of influence will simply steal and abuse their positions.
Those in the right places will only be self-seeking and self-serving. They have capitulated to the notion that there is no one in these public bodies who is serving the common good. So whenever a new corporate board is announced it is met with either a cynical dismissive attitude or with muted indifference. One can easily hear someone saying, “Who cares?” as they flip through the pages of the paper and skip through the big financial scandal at a parastatal as if it’s nothing to scream home about. “Oh, money has been stolen, so what? Of course a new board has just been announced, so who cares if one thief has just replaced another?” Is this where we are now as a nation?
This column has supported aggressive taxation thrusts as a way of availing resources so the State can function and deliver the socio-economic transformation agenda. But without curbing the level of wasteful expenditure witnessed all round and authenticated by the Auditor General’s reports there is really nothing much to be achieved except the dishonesty people are just going to get more resources to plunder. It is everyone’s role to make Zimbabwe work and not just the Auditor General and like-minded offices.
Her office reports that $180 million was paid out by the Treasury on behalf of ministries and there are no supporting vouchers, invoices or anything to prove that a service was provided for this and there is no police investigation? This when workers of state enterprises and commissions are going unpaid? $180 million in an economy like ours? The Treasury employs some of the most gifted accounts and finance graduates in the country and they fail to make sure a payment out is supported by documents? This certainly cannot be an innocent oversight or ineffectiveness. The least the people would expect is people losing their jobs for prejudicial incompetence. That is the very least. At best there is an expectation that the criminal justice route will be taken and the police will investigate and prosecutions at a large scale will be seen.
Ministries and institutions are reported to have abandoned all internal control mechanisms in a deliberate ploy to muddy the waters so as to make it difficult to trace fraudulent activities. Internal controls are put in place in any organisation so as assure that, the organisation achieves its objectives. These are measures that ensure that there is compliance with the law and regulations and that the financial reports are written from reliable sources of information and processes that operate with integrity as they should. When people who boast of high financial literacy like some of these functionaries appear to blunder through their jobs one should know that this is no accident. There is thieving at play.
Countries with better resources are being austere, ironically. Great Britain is going through fiscal restraint even though its economy is performing well., Italy is learning frugality, Portugal is contending with fiscal restraint and Greece was considered too indulgent by its European colleagues and international financial institutions hence the big political upheaval at the moment.
They have been asked to be more abstemious. In Zimbabwe we seem to have embraced the business as usual attitude. How can this be a wrong conclusion when the Auditor-General reports that millions of dollars are spent on car hiring by executives of non-income generating boards such as the Health Service Board? Of course these profligate people prefer hiring to buying as with hiring one can change cars more regularly and complete the big show-off which they seek.
When your financial situation is where ours is, the whole country has to rally and austere and not just the poor and ordinary. This is exactly what Greece is grappling with. Salaries have been cut, taxes increased and levies applied to pensions, a lot of tax exemptions have been scrapped, luxuries like yachts, yachts and pools have are taxed. Yes, you saw right, pools are taxed. Companies can sack people with a bit more flexibility to avoid closing down. Statutory retirement age was raised as well as a big crack down on tax evasion and avoidance schemes.
These are the type of measures that a country struggling with debt, too much public expenditure and a stuttering economy would do. However all the savings and collections should not go to recurring expenditure. In short all the money should not just be used to hire cars, go on worthless seminars and pay each other more ridiculously sounding allowances.
It is quite frustrating to the public to learn that a non-accountant member of a board is sent to Mauritius to attend a professional course which does not apply to the board at all: all this just for a trip and the allowances. It is even more frustrating to realise that these “lucky” people fly first class when at that very time workers are going unpaid. When this paper berates wasteful spending, this is the kind of thing it is referring to.
When $41 500 is spent on sending a board member to a 26 day foreign trip for a strategic management course it is being very wasteful. One is even tempted to suggest that if this was necessary, then it even sounds more logical to pay for a year-long intensive MBA programme. It would cost much less than this course for which one is likely to get a certificate of attendance anyway. But why would someone without strategic management experience or value be on the board in the first place?
Members of a board are recruited for a very big strategic function for starters. One of their major functions is to provide strategic direction to the organisation. So there is an assumption that this person is already experienced and knowledgeable enough that the board is benefiting from their presence.
Then there is that chairman who went to United Arab Emirates to learn how to chair a board meeting! Assuming he doesn’t have the skill (and wondering why he is in that position), aren’t there enough people with this skill in Zimbabwe to conduct even a one to one training to skill up this person at a much lower cost?
Of course they are there. It was never about being skilled up, was it?
On the 1st of July this paper ran an apt editorial in which it lamented that other institutions of the state such as the police and Prosecutor-General’s Office should support efforts of the Auditor General by prosecuting those that are pillaging public coffers, otherwise she is labouring in vein. There is a need here to add that public confidence in state institutions is probably at its lowest. When those that undermine the State by stealing from it and reducing its capacity to deliver its responsibilities to Zimbabwe are left to roam the street and continue to flaunt their ill-gotten wealth, it is injures the influence of the state on the population.
This is the reason why the public frowns at initiatives to raise more money for the fiscus through taxation. How can they not when they believe that their money is not being used for the advancement of the common good? But the moment they see all public officials against whom there is an allegation of financial impropriety facing their music or at least having their day in court, it will buttress their confidence that there is a system that safeguards the public purse. And that the system works.
When the Government asks them to tighten their belts and forgo a few things for the common good, they will accept the sacrifices knowing that they are making this sacrifice for the betterment of tomorrow. But when nothing happens to those that steal from the public, the populace becomes cynical.
Now cynicism is a sentiment that emanates from disappointments. When people have had their scepticism confirmed, this is what will be turn into cynicism.
When that grips a nation, it generates indifference and apathy. Now that paralyses a nation because a nation with apathy has lack of enthusiasm.
This is when people just drift in a zombie-like state and no longer care what’s happening to their country, to their institutions and to their neighbour as long as they have something to eat, some sort of shelter and a little bit to at least sparsely cover their dignity.
That is a nation without aspirations but just to make it to the next day.
That nation may never achieve its potential.
It behoves every part of the Sate to ensure this description will never be used on the nation of Zimbabwe.