[By Edward Bwalya Phiri]
American Architect and author, Buckminster Fuller once proffered that, ‘’You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” And a Swahili proverb admonishes that, “Unity is strength, division is weakness.”
On The Perspective today, focus is on the conflicting statements that have been coming from different members of the immediate passed ruling party, the Patriotic Front (PF). And what has been said so far, is really nothing but a melee. It has been a free for all and uncoordinated statements; while some have acknowledged having betrayed the trust of the people that initially voted them in power, others are still confronting the people for reprimanding them.
A free advice to the former ruling party is that, all they need is to unite, introspect and own up for their short comings. I can assure them that fighting the people is one battle that they never win. Abraham Lincoln rightly pointed out that, ‘’You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.’’
This write up has been inspired by a letter dated 22nd November 2021 that has recently been circulating online, purported to have been authored by one senior member of the Patriotic Front party, Mr Bizwell Mutale and addressed to the Office of the Auditor General [OAG]. In this letter, the author contends with the public perception that the Patriotic Front party is corrupt. Further, he seeks the help of the OAG to exonerate the party.
Therefore, the correspondence cannot be allowed to pass without a comment because of the matters raised and the interest generated. In the said letter, the author has requested the Auditor General to conduct what has been termed as the ‘’Forensic Lifestyle Audit’’ on ‘’Ex – Government Officials,’’ the ‘’Ex – Patriotic Front Officials,’’ their family members and close associates.’’
What is so clear in the request, is the concern of the party’s dissipating political fortunes and definitely not the interest of the people, or the public resources alleged to have been misappropriated during the Patriotic Front’s reign. The request for an audit, is therefore aimed at cleansing the party and improve the goodwill of the people.
Another point to note is that, while the public has accused the entire party of being corrupt, the letter’s author chooses to limit the allegation to only a few selected government and party portfolios; namely, the ministers, permanent secretaries, director generals, commissioner generals, state officials and chief executive officers. And other positions from the party are the secretary general, national chairman, provincial chairman and district chairman.
The obvious question that begs more answers than any is, why is this audit supposed to be selective? What is the reason for leaving out other key portfolios such as the president, vice-president, attorney general, speaker of parliament and many others including those in the party?
And coming to the request itself; what is a lifestyle audit? Of what significance is it to the public and how feasible is it, or does it have a legal backing in the Zambian context? According to a freelance journalist and marketing writer Ann Snook , ‘’A lifestyle audit is a common comparison of known income with standard of living to identify gaps and indicators that someone is living above their means. In some circumstances, this audit is carried out by employers who suspect an employee of fraud.’’
In countries where lifestyle [checks] audits are conducted in the public service like South Africa, they are done by the revenue wing of government. According to Snook, ‘’An Internal Revenue Service [IRS] lifestyle audit goes beyond the numbers on the tax return to see the big picture. Also referred to as an ‘economic reality check,’ this type of audit aims to see if a taxpayer’s income matches his lifestyle. The tax agency may investigate homes, vehicles, clothing, vacations and even charitable donations to see if taxpayers could realistically afford his or her spending habits.’’
When a lifestyle check is conducted by the national revenue agency, the main objective is to recover undisclosed taxes. And for companies, it is to promote integrity and identify possible abuses of internal processes and internal contracts. In Zambia there seems to be no legal framework for conducting this form of audit, though there have been endless calls for those in the public service to be subjected to such.
According to a 2021 report authored by Guilherme France, under the auspices of Transparency International, has revealed that the only countries in Africa that have established a legal framework for lifestyle checks are Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. The report further states that these ‘’…countries have established lifestyle audit frameworks in a host of different scenarios and which are being implemented with varying degrees of success.’’
Perhaps this confirms that Zambia has no framework for such an undertaking. But, even if she had implemented a legal framework for conducting lifestyle checks, the call has come too late. If it had come while PF was still in government, it would have helped prevent what the party is now scared off. According to Frances , ‘’Lifestyle audits – also known as lifestyle checks or lifestyle monitoring – are an accountability tool that can be used to detect and prevent corruption.’’
Further, Frances notes that, ‘’Such audits are typically conducted when the visible lifestyle or standard of living of an individual appears to exceed their known income level. The detection of such discrepancies can raise red flags warranting closer inspection.’’ It’s obvious that there was once a time when people noted the extravagance in spending, the flamboyance in appearance and benevolence of most government and party officials, and that would have been the best time to check situation.
What should have been requested, instead, is an investigation of theft and fraud by former public servants and political party functionaries. And the government agencies mandated with that power are the investigative wings. Perhaps the author would have been of great help, if he had acted as a whistle blower. If at all he had names in mind of people who he feels helped themselves with public funds, he should have reported to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), Drug Enforcement Commission (DEC), Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) or the Zambia Police Service.
Unlike the author’s call for a public institution to audit to exonerate a private club, the investigations are supposed to culminate into the prosecution of culprits and the eventual recovery of the plundered public resources. Therefore, a request for OAG to inspect former government officials who are now private citizens is misplaced and shows that the author does not fully appreciate the work of the institution.
The main role of the OAG is to audit accounts of state organs, state institutions, provincial administrations, local authorities and projects that involve public funds. So, the key phrase is institutions and projects financed from public funds, OAG cannot therefore audit a private citizen. This is in line with its mandate, pursuant to Article 250 of the Constitution Amendment Act No.2 of 2016.
If the call is about knowing whether or not the ‘’Ex – Government Officials,’’ or the Patriotic Front led government misappropriated public funds, sorry, the work was already done and the annual audit reports the period in question are available for inspection. The OAG is mandated by the Constitution, to produce an audit report for all institutions funded in each fiscal calendar in accordance with Article 212. For today I will end here; it’s au revoir, from EBP.
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