HARARE – President Robert Mugabe and his Cabinet are responsible for suing ministers and other government bureaucrats fingered in blatant theft of millions of government dollars by Auditor-General Mildred Chiri, Parliament has said.
This comes after Chiri has routinely issued adverse reports on abuse of public funds, but they have gone largely ignored with no discernible action taken against the culprits.
Last year, the auditor-general’s report on Appropriation Accounts, State Enterprises and Parastatals found 22 ministries out of a total 26 to have abused funds as well as having flouted procurement procedures and governance rules.
Police have said they cannot act on the persistent allegations of corruption against ministers because there was no complainant.
Assistant clerk of Parliament Johane Gandiwa said the Public Accounts Committee — a body in the legislature that must study public audits — had no fiduciary responsibility for levelling corruption charges against thieving ministers.
“It is not the duty of Parliament to govern. Parliament does not appoint ministers. It is the duty of the Executive. We cannot be a complainant. We expect the Executive to take up the issue,” Gandiwa told a recent workshop in Gweru to enhance editors’ understanding of the mandate and functions of Parliament and the Public Accounts Committee.
“It is against the principle of separation of powers,” he said, referring to a political doctrine prescribing separation of political power between the legislature, executive, and judiciary.
Mugabe recently urged the public to presume ministers’ innocence until proven guilty.
Speaking on his 93rd birthday interview, Mugabe said: “We only hear so and so is corrupt. Well, this could be the case. Perhaps the big fish might also be capable of hiding their corruption. I don’t know. Or are people afraid to come out and even come to us and say so and so steals such amounts and we investigate that.
“For now we only hear big fish, big fish, big fish. People were in the habit of accusing the others of being corrupt with no evidence.
“I will investigate but I don’t want political attacks as it were…if there are evidence we will pursue that evidence and certainly we will deal with the persons.”
Gandiwa noted that evidence discovered from an audit cannot be used in a judicial proceeding.
The courts’ main objections are based on the auditor receiving the corruption assumptions in out-of-court discussions, normally subject to the hearsay rule.
The assistant clerk of Parliament however said parliamentary portfolio committees “are pushing.” He said there were legislative reforms underway to bolster anti-corruption efforts.
Gandiwa said the Public Accounts Committee — chaired by an opposition MP Paurina Mpariwa — recently came up with 18 recommendations directed at Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa, which have all been accepted by the Finance minister.
Chinamasa told the National Assembly last month he has started a process to take action over damning exposés by the AG.
The Finance minister said his handicap was that he did not have the staff to comb through the voluminous auditor’s reports.
This was after legislators called on Parliament to bring the Executive to order for grand scale theft of public money which has deprived some of Zimbabwe’s poorest citizens of better access to fundamental services such as health and education.
Years of evidence indicate that Zimbabwe’s current political system is built on patronage and that ultimately high-level corruption is rewarded rather than punished.
Chinamasa said he had to negotiate with the Civil Service Commission so that government creates an establishment solely dedicated to reading the government auditor’s reports and responding to them.
“I believe we are almost getting there,” Chinamasa said. “You cannot respond to all those auditor’s reports unless there is some team dedicated to ploughing through all those reports and disseminating or rather discriminating what may not be quite true and what is true and correcting the mistakes which are pointed out in those reports.”
Antony Chigumba, director of audit in the AG’s office, said they were “a Supreme Audit Institution (SAI) of Zimbabwe” that examines, audits and report to Parliament on the management of public resources with the aim of improving accountability and good corporate governance.
But despite the AG’s myriad damning corruption reports, the State has failed to hold the highest members of government accountable for theft of public funds, despite its stated commitment to eradicating corruption and much good work from investigators and prosecutors at the technical level.