The Office of the Auditor-General plays a critical role in ensuring that Government departments and State-linked companies and institutions account for every cent of public funds they receive. Following revelations of under and over-invoicing, mega salaries, and purchases made without going to tender in State-related entities, people have asked if the Auditor-General, Mrs Mildred Chiri (MC), has been executing her mandate well and what kind of challenges she is facing.
Our Political Editor, Hebert Zharare (HZ), submitted several questions to Mrs Chiri on these and other issues. Below are excerpts of the questions and responses.
HZ: Please start by explaining your mandate and terms of reference as AG?
MC: Firstly, I would like to bring to the country’s attention that following the coming into effect of Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (Number 20) Act 2013, the designation of my post changed to “Auditor-General” (Section 309 (1) refers. My mandate is derived from Section 309 of the Constitution, which is to – in summary – audit, examine and report to Parliament on the public accounts of Zimbabwe.
To be specific, the mandate is: (a) To audit the accounts, financial systems and financial management of all departments, institutions and agencies of Government, all provincial and metropolitan councils and all authorities;
(b) At the request of the Government, to carry out special audits of the accounts of any statutory body or Government-controlled entity;
(c) To order the taking of measures to rectify any defects in management and safeguarding of public funds and public property; and
(d) To exercise any other functions that may be conferred or imposed on him or her by or under an Act of Parliament.
In carrying out these audits, I am guided by the Audit Office Act (Chapter 22:18). After audit of these entities, I produce an annual audit report which is tabled in Parliament.
HZ: What role do you play in the fight against corruption in the country?
MC: My role in the fight against corruption is guided by Section 7 of the Audit Office Act (Chapter 22:18), which states that: The Auditor-General shall satisfy himself or herself that – (a) All reasonable precautions have been taken to safeguard the collection of public moneys and that all provisions of the regulations, directions and instructions have been followed;
(b) All payments of public moneys have been made with proper authority, is properly charged and is supported by sufficient proof;
(c) All appropriation expenditure incurred has been applied for the intended purpose and that it is in conformity with the proper authority;
(d) That reasonable precautions have been taken to safeguard and control State property.
If at any time it appears that any irregularity has occurred in accounting for public funds and resources, I immediately bring the matter to the relevant authorities which may include Treasury, the Public Service Commission, the Prosecutor-General, the Anti-Corruption Commission and the Commissioner-General of Police, as the case may be.
HZ: Why are your reports published late, say two or so years behind?
MC: Cases of reports taking two or more years to be published are now a thing of the past. At most it may be a year.
The reason is that some entities may not submit financial statements for audit on time and it is my duty to examine the financial statements so that the public is informed accordingly.
My staff levels have not really increased in tandem with the size of the public sector to en- able my office to do all the audits at the same time.
HZ: Do you receive enough funding from Government?
MC: Under normal circumstances adequate funding is obtained, however, when there are cashflow problems my office may not get the funds on time and audits may not commence as planned.
HZ: What about human resources issues, do you have the right people you need?
MC: We have the right people in place as the office recruits relevant Auditing and Accounting degree holders and holders of professional qualifications obtained through institutions registered with the Public Accountancy and Auditor’s Board.
In addition, the office carries out in-house training and it also runs an Articles programme with the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Zimbabwe.
Looking ahead the office intends to recruit people with expertise in the fields of engineering, medical doctors, environmentalists, etc, to assist in their respective expert areas.
HZ: Are there cases where senior people in Government departments and parastatals interfere with your work and how do you manage it?
MC: There have not been any such cases as the Constitution clearly provides for my independence under Section 311. My staff and I are not civil servants and we report to Parliament to safeguard independence.
HZ: Are your recommendations taken on board or some of them are ignored?
MC: My recommendations are taken on board as shown by management’s responses incorporated in the report. Further to this, heads of entities are called and appear before the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament to explain and update on the steps taken in implementing audit recommendations.
HZ: Do you make public all reports compiled by your teams?
MC: Findings for all audits done by my teams are consolidated into an annual report that is tabled in Parliament. I also produce Value for Money audit reports that are tabled in Parliament independent of the annual report. All the reports become public upon tabling and in addition hard copies are obtainable from the office. They will be accessed on our Internet site which is still under development. The website is www.auditgen.gov.zw
HZ: Have you faced any threats from people found on the wrong side of the law?
MC: No threats have been received so far. Cases arising are handed over to the Police or Anti-Corruption Commission for further investigations.
HZ: What mechanisms are there to ensure you and your people are not compromised?
MC: In carrying out the audits my office is governed by our code of ethics, office values, the Secrecy Act and a strong quality assurance control system. To ensure professionalism is maintained in all respects, the office is affiliated to the Public Accountancy and Auditor’s Board local body regulating conduct by auditors and accountants and to the International Organisation of Supreme Audit Institutions, which issues standards of conduct of public sector auditors.