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Saturday, 26 September 2009

Aid for auditing..

The Danish Government this week gave K3bn to the Auditor General's Office for the recruitment of around 15 members of staff to cover the increased workload for the next six months. For her part, Ms Chifungula is looking for even more money : “My office still has a total number of 169 staff vacancies even to be able to meet all the planned activities. These vacancies could have been filled in within this year as the last phase of the restructuring exercise but could not because of inadequate funds”. This of course is not the first time the Auditor General has asked for more money. The last time she was calling for better wages, as the solution to prevent her own staff from becoming corrupt. What is clear is that she certainly thinks more should be done to help her office, and money appears to be the immediate answer. The donors appear to share this view.

The Auditor General's Office certainly needs more funding to help uncover more mismanagement, but the real problem is "the day after". The Auditor General has revealed many corruption / mismanagement scandals but very little has been done. With the additional resources, one expects that we will get even larger reports and more revelations of scandals (previous reports here and here). But will this more money and larger reports fundamentally alter public sector attitudes towards plunder? I have my doubts.

The scepticism is fundamentally drawn from a rudimentally match-up between the weak constitutional position that the Auditor General currently occupies and the corrupt national apparatus she's battling against. The Auditor General's position holds no weight constitutionally and until recently her reports were simply ignored.

There are two ways to remedy her constitutional position. One way is to ensure that the Auditor General is able to prosecute the cases she uncovers. This would especially apply to more serious cases and would guarantee some end product to her work. As attractive as that sounds, it is likely to be costly and would cut across the responsibilities of the Director of Public Prosecution and the Attorney General. A cheaper alternative is to simply ensure that when the Auditor General's Report is adopted by Parliament, she should send all the information to the relevant investigative wings. The Laws of Zambia should enshrine this process as automatic and emphasise the liability for prosecution squarely on the investigative wings. At the end of each year the investigative wings could be mandated to give an account to Parliament on how they proceeded on each task. Parliament of course would have no big stick to wave, but it could serve a useful role in shouting loud to the public that the relevant investigative wings and DPP are not doing their job.

Which brings us to another dimension that is currently missing - public engagement or ownership of the fight against plunder. In more developed countries the Auditor General is more effective without a prosecutor function. This is largely because the "court of public opinion" holds much more weight and often forces the investigative wings to act. It is not uncommon for example for a member of the public to write to police authorities and ask them to investigate a case. In Zambia the police authorities rarely act based on a public request. Home Affairs Minister, Lameck Mangani was recently asked on Zambia BlogTalk Radio, why is there no website for the Police? The Minister's answer : you can reach the police through me or the Permanent Secretary. After some persuasion from callers, he relented and suggested that the Diaspora should help build such a website, but it was currently not a priority. The Minister probably does have a broader point that resources are scarce, but it does highlight how distant the policing authorities are from the people.

Of course even if the police where more accessible, the public may still not play an active role due to the "free rider" problem. In many instances, people would prefer to sit on their hands and wait for someone else to bear the cost (and I don't just mean financial) of shouting loud about unsanctioned Auditor General's revelations. We see this in many areas. We always want others to do it for us, not us as individuals to do what we can to hold Government to account. I do and we all do it. Its rational! So the only solution is to ensure that mechanisms are put in place that helps avoid having to rely on individuals to informally enforce good government (outside the ballot box).

But there's another problem of course we should not ignore. Uncovering malpractice and getting the law enforcement agencies to act is just one side of the coin - "detection". The other side we continue to emphasise is improved prosecution. The current approach to sentencing and prosecution of corruption is costly to the tax payer. It is long and by the time cases are done people serve short sentences. For justice to work, it is critical that people are not just punished but are seen to be punished. We need a new judicial process for convicting corrupt criminals, that is swift and definite. A corruption fight without an efficient court system has little deterrent effect on corruption - and is therefore a pure social cost. I keep calling for "special corruption courts", which some believe undermines the principle of "justice", but in Zambia there's no justice at present because real justice is not just about respecting "rights" but also about correcting "wrongs".

In short, aid is welcome but it is only a start. We must ensure that reform goes deeper than simply throwing money at auditors.


  1. I totaly agree with your observations. In as much as we appreciate what the auditor general's report is highlighting, for me as a common Zambian, its a waste of time and resources because these reports are just for archives. This is why even the perpetuators keep on doing these wrongs because they know nothing will be done about it. For me, it bores down to every Zambian, we should all learn to demand accountability, change our perceptions and demand for justice and quality services. It is interesting to note that most of these people who pilfer funds are our own peers- we see them lead an exagerated life style which we all know they cannot afford- and yet we turn a blind eye or even applaud their "riches". Its time we all changed our values,perceptions- mere changing of policy, institutions, structures or pouring in more aid is not the answer. The answer lies with each individual Zambia to stand up and do the right thing. I'm just tired of these things now.

  2. Eagle eyes,

    Unfortunately asking Zambians to change takes time. It would require a major shift in our cultural norms.

    Also when you are poor and have to worry about feeding your son on less than $2 a day, demanding accountability is not going to be top on your list. Its the strange thing in life, but peasant agitation are few and far between in many countries' histories.


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