via Editorial Comment: Time to strengthen public accountability | The Herald January 29, 2014
It is heartening to hear legislators talking about the need to prosecute public officials who abuse their offices so that they pay themselves hefty sums of money.
For far too long, people have been able to get their hands on public resources without having to face any real form of accountability.
This created the culture of simply looting, getting fired, waiting to get another public appointment while getting fat off ill-gotten gains, and then looting again.
It is a rotten cycle, and one which has worked against genuine efforts to fight economic sanctions that on their own are bad enough. As we have pointed out here before, any action that works against the national interest is treated as treason in countries such as China, countries that we would do well to emulate on several fronts.
The call for prosecutions by legislators raises several issues that the country would do well to quickly ponder over and perhaps act on.
The first is that Chapter 9 of the Constitution should urgently be enforced through the institution of relevant legislation pertaining to the Public Finance Management Act.
That chapter of the Constitution provides a broad outline on basic standards expected of public officials, which include focus on service delivery, accountability and transparency, and periodic declaration of personal assets.
This is something for both the executive and legislators to act on. Both ministers and legislators, the latter through a private member’s action, can bring the appropriate legislation before Parliament.
And this is something that must be done both quickly and in technically/legally sound language.
Secondly, Government should seriously consider establishing a commission, such as we saw with the Willowgate Scandal of the 1980s, to look into the operations of State-linked enterprises.
The Office of the President and Cabinet has taken the right route in requesting full disclosure of the packages being paid at these enterprises.
What could be needed though is a more comprehensive inspection of operations at parastatals and State-linked firms, which should be followed by necessary remedial prosecutorial, and more importantly, structural action.
This will ensure proper structures are put in place so that the culture of looting with impunity ends.
Thirdly, it means Government on the whole has to become more responsive to what is happening on the ground.
Looting of public resources did not start yesterday. It has been going on for years right under the watch — and in some cases with the collusion and even the instigation — of ministers and other senior State officials.
How has Government allowed this to happen? How did it happen? What can be done to ensure it does not happen again, and if it does happen, what action is taken against perpetrators?
There appears to be an emerging virulent strain of nepotism and cronyism coming out of what we have uncovered thus far in public institutions.
How such a malady is allowed to grow and become so entrenched in governance surely boggles the mind, and it is something that the authorities must clamp down on as a matter of urgency.
Lastly, we would like to say once more that it is good that parliamentarians see the need to prosecute people who loot public resources.
It is our sincere wish that the chair of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health and Child Care, Dr Ruth Labode, also pushes for accountability in relation to the legislators who we were told plundered the Constituency Development Fund in the last Parliament.
Those MPs are still walking around scot-free. Surely what is good for the gander is good for the goose, and we expect to see transparency at Parliament.