EDITORIAL COMMENT: Councillors won’t run away from accountability

24 Jun, 2022 - 00:06 0 Views
EDITORIAL COMMENT: Councillors won’t run away from accountability The Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission has been doing follow-ups of audits and its own spot checks at State entities, including ministries, local authorities and State-owned enterprises. 

The Herald

THE easiest and most effective way to end corruption is to stop it happening in the first place. To as far as possible stop the thieves from putting their hands in the till and to make sure that there are enough safeguards in place from the beginning.

Among other things this requires proper audits and spot checks. While these can sometimes be time consuming, even for the honest, if they are taken in the right way they will ensure much higher standards of accounting and administration. 

Once the standards have been reached, then they become relatively quick, since everything is laid out properly for inspection.

The Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission has been doing follow-ups of audits and its own spot checks at State entities, including ministries, local authorities and State-owned enterprises. 

It wants shoddiness and potential corruption fixed, and it wants everyone safeguarding public money to look after it properly. And it wants a sense of integrity across the board, rather than a sense of entitlement.

In the visits to local authorities it keeps finding the same problems, although perhaps to different degrees since some are run better than others. But councils need to co-operate to clear past errors and make sure they do not repeat them in future.

This seems to have been missed in Chinhoyi on Wednesday. 

A group of CCC councillors was so upset that they were being checked out that they barracked the commission team although what they hoped to accomplish only they know. 

ZACC has a Constitutional mandate. In 2013 it was one of a small set of independent commissions set up by the people in the Constitution they had written and approved in a long consultative process. 

These commissions are watchdogs, and ZACC was seen as critical. It is now fulfilling its mandate and it is almost impossible to get rid of a commissioner before their term is ended so there is not much anyone can do except co-operate.

So much shouting and noise will just make those checking more suspicious and more vigilant when they go through the books. 

It is also strange that the CCC should be so against a corruption check since this is something they complain about, as does everyone else from President Mnangagwa down. 

And there is plenty of evidence that opposition parties in power, and they control most urban authorities, have allowed corruption and maladministration, sometimes at very high levels.

In their checks of local authorities ZACC teams have found the sheer dishonesty we all tend to discuss and condemn, but they have found more. 

There seems to be a sense of entitlement, that election into office or being qualified to hold down a top job in the council administration entitles you to numerous perks.

So we get the common total misuse of land allocations, a local government responsibility. 

This can and has involved pure corruption, some councillors and senior officials selling council land in return for bribes and at times even creating stands without going through proper procedures and selling these for pure personal profit.

But it also involves allocating council stands, properly laid out and properly serviced, to themselves, their relatives and their friends on the basis that they are entitled to these. 

There might not even be any bribes, but just that sense of entitlement that they are entitled to jump the queues for themselves and their own.

Sometimes this benefit is actually approved by the council, very quietly to be sure. 

The idea that officials of integrity work for a salary alone and that councillors do the part-time work required of a councillor, with just an allowance to cover the direct expenses such as fuel or phone calls, not the time involved because they want to serve their communities, does not seem to have taken root.

We even have those allowed to occupy council housing as part of their conditions of service reckoning they should be allowed to keep the house when they retire, as a retirement benefit rather than moving out so their successor can move in. 

When you consider the President has State House while in office only, or doctors, nurses and police officers can occupy Government houses and flats while in office only, it is difficult to figure out how that sort of entitlement ever became possible.

Then there is shoddy administration. Some tenders are awarded without going through the proper procedures. 

If councils feel the procedures set by the Procurement Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe do not make sense they can lobby for a change, and the President himself has done that. But he did not suggest disobeying the rules, only for rules changes, with the new rules still blocking corrupt deals.

Some councils have found the supplier was a thief, taking the money but not delivering. ZACC in its visits has breathed heavily on these suppliers, but councils are quite entitled to set up their contract for payment on delivery and have recourse to the police and the courts, or even ZACC itself.

Devolution funds are making a huge difference to many communities, now able to direct their capital expenditure where they think it matters most. 

That was the whole idea, that a community knows more than some Harare bureaucrat what is needed first. 

But ZACC has found councils “borrowing” from devolution funds to pay salaries and even to buy assets that benefit themselves and top officials rather than the people, such as fancy cars, or for that matter Honda Fits, for use by themselves. Buying a grader or a garbage truck is meritorious: buying the Town clerk a 4×4 is corrupt.

Rules are rules. 

The private sector, which must have the same percentage of potentially corrupt, suffers a lot less, basically because over the decades, shareholders have figured out ways of enforcing rules. 

There are internal auditors, who can go straight to an audit committee of the board that excludes all executive directors and even directors who are large shareholders themselves.

A company listed on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange must have a prompt annual audit, and these days an interim one as well, and the listing requirements require a lot of information that must be given to shareholders. 

Auditors are not just looking for fraud, but also to ensure that the accounts are kept fully up to date and in a form that makes it easy to detect leaks. And they can grill managers.

So people like the CCC councillors in Chinhoyi cannot complain if they are held to the same standards. 

They are not there to rule; they are there to serve and ZACC wants them to serve.

In fact ZACC is not interested in the political background of councillors, officials or anyone else. It only wants public funds used properly.

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