Audit queries symptom of systematic malaise
Public officials, regardless of which ministry they represent, do not seem to learn from the past. If, ever, the nation needed a reminder, on-going appearances of public officials before the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament (Pac) serve as a stark reminder that public officials are yet to embrace positive change.
Year after year, Malawians are subjected to news of audit queries when public officials appear before Pac officials, which is against the spirit of the parliamentary appearances anyway. Pac summons public officials because it wants them to account for their mistakes, learn from them and save public funds through prudence.
But this is not what happens for, year after year, audit queries dominate affairs when public officials appear before Pac.
But, then, one would have hoped that, after Cashgate, the plunder of public resources at Capital Hill, public officers— especially controlling officers in ministries— would be extra-careful in their dealings by ensuring that every tambala is accounted for.
It is, therefore, disheartening to learn that the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology has failed to explain how it spent K3 billion in the 2014 /15 financial year.
The K3 billion is out of the K5.3 billion disclosed in the financial statements that were not recorded in the Integrated Financial Management Information System (Ifmis) in the Auditor General’s report. Malawians know that it is Ifmis that contributed significantly to Cashgate, and the audit query on K3 billion serves as a reminder that Cashgate was not a one-off thing.
Billions of public funds could be going down the drain on our watch, which could explain why some public officials take a lackadaisical approach when it comes to following up on where each tambala goes. Someone, or some people, could be benefitting from such lapses.
To make matters worse, officials from the ministry showed that they are not in control of affairs by admitting that it took them two weeks to get information on how the money was used. This is surprising because 2014/15 is a long time and the officials should have come to the bottom of the matter long ago.
We agree with Pac that failure to reconcile books negatively affects implementation of the national budget and, by extension, the delivery of public services.
To say the truth, K3 billion is a lot of money and can go a long way in bridging development gaps in the country.
Moving forward, we would suggest that we should overhaul the system and start all over again.
And, in the spirit of starting all over again, we should put in place measures that promote accountability in the civil and public services. This can be achieved by ensuring that individual officials who cannot account for funds are prosecuted.
This way, sanity will prevail. As things stand, culprits hide behind the system, and get away with nefarious actions.
We cannot continue like this. Time to sanitise the system is now.
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