Government accounts not audited for five years


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The government has been groping in the dark for the past five years as it has been rolling out annual budgets but has not produced any audited reports since 2000.

The chief culprit is the government’s financial manager, the Ministry of Finance, which has failed to produce consolidated accounts to enable the comptroller and auditor-general to produce her annual audits.

Parliament, which should be the watchdog, has not been barking though the Public Accounts Committee, which is responsible for ensuring that public monies are accounted for, has been chaired by opposition Member of Parliament for Glen Norah, Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga, since 2003.

Misihairabwi- Mushonga admitted that the government’s financial systems were in a mess and needed an urgent overhaul but she said her committee had not been quiet.

She said she was going to present proposals to overhaul government’s accounting system when Parliament resumes sitting on February 7.

The Comptroller and Auditor-General Mildred Chiri said the government’s accounts had now been audited up to 2004 but could only be available to the public after they had been tabled in Parliament.

Her office had not been able to produce the audited accounts on time because of the delays in finalising the Consolidated Revenue Fund.

The Consolidated Revenue Fund comprises “all fees, taxes and other revenues of (the government) from whatever source” and only excludes money payable to special funds or that retained by ministries to pay expenses but this has to be approved by an act of Parliament.

She said while she could have produced audited reports without the consolidated revenue fund, the audits would have been meaningless. Ironically the auditor-general’s salary comes from that very fund.

It is not clear whether the auditor-general finally produced the reports with or without the consolidated accounts as it is understood the Public Accounts Committee had to intervene to ensure that the audited reports were produced. But she said that the 2005 report should be produced on time.

Misihairabwi-Mushonga said the problem had not been with the auditor-general’s office, but with the government because the auditor-general could only finalise her report after getting the consolidated accounts.

“Right now, all I can tell you is that government’s financial systems are in a mess. I will go into detail in my report to be tabled in Parliament next month,” she said.

She also hinted that her committee would seek legislation to empower the auditor-general to produce her reports on time.

It is not clear what she meant because the present legislation clearly sets out the procedures government ministries must follow in presenting their accounts.

Section 31 of the Audit and Exchequer Act clearly states that unless treasury otherwise directs, all accounts must be submitted to the treasury (Ministry of Finance) within one month after the end of the financial year. In this case, they should be submitted before the end of January each year.

The accounts must be submitted to the comptroller and auditor-general within two months after the end of the financial year, which means before the end of February each year.

Treasury should submit transactions of the Consolidated Revenue Fund within four months after the end of the financial year, that is, before the end of April each year.

The comptroller and auditor-general has to submit her audited report to the Minister of Finance within nine months from the end of the financial year.

No one has been following these guidelines, yet the audited report is the one that examines government books to check which ministries or departments have overspent. It also exposes corruption and diversion of funds.

Misihairabwi-Mushonga said the government was failing to produce the consolidated accounts because it did not have the capacity.

“In some cases it is a question of human resources. Some departments do not even have qualified accountants to do the job. Some of the accounts are done manually which means if the person who has been working on them suddenly falls ill or something happens to him or her there is a problem.”

She said this problem was likely to be solved by the introduction of the Public Finance Management System (PFMS), which, she said, started working in 2004.

“You will see a difference in the 2005 accounts,” she said.

It is not clear what has been withholding the implementation of this accounting system for so long because it was first introduced in 1999 by Finance Minister Herbert Murerwa.

Presenting his 2000 budget in October 1999, Murerwa said the PFMS, “a new computerised accounting and expenditure management system,” would be introduced the following year. It was already being pilot-tested within the Ministries of Education and Finance and would be rolled out to other ministries in 2000.

“The new system, which will be networked to treasury, will enhance the monitoring and management of finances,” he said.

Simba Makoni, who took over from Murerwa, announced in November 2001 when he presented the 2002 budget that the system had not been fully implemented, two years down the line, because of a shortage of foreign currency to buy computers and software as well as because of escalating costs which were beyond budgeted amounts.

He said it was now functioning at the auditor-general’s office and at the ministries of finance, defence, transport, president and cabinet, and lands.

Without audited reports, it is impossible to ascertain whether the government has been living within its means or not over the past five years as it has an insatiable appetite for money.

At one time, Finance Minister Herbert Murerwa said if ministries were allocated all the monies they requested for a supplementary budget, the budget deficit would shoot up to 50 percent.

The ministries had requested additional funding of $31 trillion when the original budget was $27.5 trillion.

Only two weeks ago, the executive mayor of Bulawayo, Japhet Ndabeni-Ncube, hinted that all was not well when he said most government departments exhausted their budgets within three months?

If this is true, the question is, how do they survive the remainder of the year?

(42 VIEWS)

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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.

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