We have witnessed, one after the other, the dirty laundry that had been lingering in some of our public offices being laid bare for all to see following an audit that government sanctioned recently and, seriously, it has given many an insight into how chaotic things can be and how sloppy those working in some of these public institutions are.
For starters, how can we have a whole Malawi embassy fail to account for buildings it purportedly owns, and to make it worse, bought with taxpayers’ money? We are told this is what government auditors encountered at the Malawi Mission in South Africa, where they had gone to audit the books and lo and behold! Billions of Kwacha are also said to have grown wings as there was no documentation for their expenditure.
You would be forgiven if you thought that such rot was only discovered beyond the country’s borders. The auditors were greeted with the same type of ‘rubbish’ in many other departments and institutions. Greenbelt Authority has also had its fair share of trouble as some assets, we are told, could not easily be followed up at a factory in Salima. Billions were also believed to have been squandered as there was no clear documentation to support their expenditure.
Similar stories were heard about a lack of records in the Integrated Financial Management Information System (Ifmis) for revenue collected by the tax regulator but I will not bore you with the nitty-gritties.
What, however, is a matter of concern is the apparent display of a lack of responsibility and care on the part of officers in the concerned institutions. I am not even quite sure if at all there are any controlling officers in such institutions because if there were, then they would have ensured that all paperwork is in tip-top form and addressed any challenges well before hand.
But this is no surprise because, for a long time, Malawi has been taken as a playground for looting and plundering by some misguided public officials and politicians who might have, in a way, contributed to the current mess unearthed by the auditors. Still, that does not justify a whole government department or agency failing to have backup document pertaining to ownership of assets or, worse still, expenditure when we have within the public system a horde of accountants, auditors, procurement officers and a bunch of others who should have made it a point to keep their books or documentation in order.
It is also a pity that once such matters are exposed, little or no action is taken by the authorities to remedy the situation until the issue dies a natural death. The current generation of Malawians, however, has proven to all and sundry that it does not want to be associated with mediocrity and deserves better. Action must therefore be taken on the auditors’ findings and somebody should account for any mess, whether at the embassies or public institutions. Ordinary citizens are, day in and day out, paying taxes through their noses and yet somebody has the decency to squander such money which government is allowed to spend through budgetary allocations? No, we can do better.
I remember there once was a time when committees of Parliament used to take public officials to task over matters and would press them until they provided satisfactory answers but these days that is water under the bridge. Not that they brought about that much change anyway, but at least we were pacified knowing the fact that somebody at Parliament was looking out for public interest.
Actually, why is it that no tangible steps have been taken to enact legislation that would make it a point for anyone who messes up any projects or fails to account for public expenditure to be held personally liable? It does not matter whether it is a chain of public officers or politicians, never mind an individual, but certainly they must account when things such as those we have heard from the government auditors have been exposed. It should not be business as usual.
The problem, I believe, is that most political leaders are too scared to take such steps because they know that, sooner or later, they will find themselves sailing in the same boat.
At the end of the day, it is action that would be taken after the audits that would be of importance to Malawians. No one should be getting a freeride.
Stephen Dakalira is a seasoned Journalist who works as Times Group’s Online and Digital Executive Editor. He is also the Assistant Editor of The Sunday Times Newspaper, and author of Full Circle column which appears in Malawi News; all of these under the Times Group stable.
He has previously worked in key positions for some of Malawi’s key media institutions such as Malawi News Agency, Capital FM Radio and Star Radio (Now Timveni Radio).