Golden Sibanda Senior Business Reporter
Government has further tightened mechanisms to prevent the abuse of public finances by gazetting regulations that provide for investigation and punishment of public officials found guilty of financial misconduct. Accounting officers (or executive authority) are now compelled to institute an investigation into an act of misconduct by officials of public organisations, in terms of the latest regulations, within 30 days of the impropriety being discovered.
The Transitional Stabilisation Programme (TSP) prioritises strengthening of the public management system, building on work already being done under the World Bank-managed Zimbabwe Reconstruction Fund to roll out the system to cover all districts.
In the context of TSP, Treasury will also put in place measures to ensure the strict enforcement of approved penalties for cases of non-compliance with requirements of public resource management legislation.
The regulations will help put a stop to the culture of impunity where over the years, bad governance and mismanagement practices in public entities, line ministries and statutory bodies, have led to the loss of millions of dollars of public funds.
Most of the impropriety happened at a time when Government faced serious financial and other resource limitations needed to meet an extensive array of obligations.
Each year, the Auditor-General’s office has uncovered startling acts of corruption, mismanagement and abuse of public resources in State-owned or controlled entities and institutions to the detriment of Government plans, objectives and goals.
The new regulations designed to end the rot in State institutions are contained in Statutory Instrument (SI) 135 of 2019, dubbed Public Finance Management (General) Regulations, 2019, published in the Government gazette yesterday.
The new regulations provide significant support to the forerunner main legislation, the Public Finance Management Act, 2017, which provides for control and management of public resources, protection and recovery thereof, among other objectives.
The new regulations, where an official is alleged to have committed financial misconduct, the accounting officer of the institution must ensure an investigation into the matter and if confirmed, that appropriate disciplinary action is taken.
“The accounting officer (authority) must ensure that such an investigation is instituted within 30 days from the date of discovery of the alleged financial misconduct.
“If the accounting officer is alleged to have committed financial misconduct, the Treasury, as soon as it becomes aware of the alleged misconduct, must ensure that the relevant executive authority initiates an investigation into the matter and if the allegations are confirmed, holds disciplinary in accordance with the appropriate statutory and other conditions of appointment or employment,” the regulations say.
The public finance regulations empower Treasury to direct that an official, other than an employee of the institution, conducts the investigation or issue any reasonable requirement regarding the way the investigation should be performed.
Further, the regulations require the accounting officer to advise the executive authority, Treasury and the auditor general of any criminal charges laid against any person in terms of the Act.
In addition, “The Treasury may direct an (public) institution to lay criminal charges against any person should an accounting officer fail to take appropriate action.”
An accounting officer of a public institution, line ministry or statutory entity must report to the executive authority and Public Service Commission on the outcome of an investigation as well as the name, rank, charge, finding and sanctions against accused.
Similarly, the new set of regulations also carry provisions against abuse of the asset management process for public entities, ministries or statutory bodies and require the ministry of finance to put in place complaints management arrangements.
The complaints framework shall be used to receive, consider and resolve complaints regarding alleged non-compliance with Acts, regulations, instructions and other irregularities regarding assets for remedial action in line with legal provisions.
The ministry is empowered to also make recommendations for cases to go for prosecution where there is suspicion of corruption, including fraud other misconduct.
“Where any money, property or rights accrue to the State by operation of law, the Ministry of Finance shall exercise all powers, authority and prerogatives, fulfil any obligation on behalf of the State unless provided otherwise by an Act or regulation.”
The regulations should give bite to action on findings of irregular conduct by Office of the Auditor General, which has been instrumental in exposing some maladministration and abuse of public funds by State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) and parastatals, government ministries and agencies and local authorities among others.