Whistle-blowers help bust Covid-19 looters

Source: Whistle-blowers help bust Covid-19 looters | Sunday Mail (Opinion)

Corruption Watch

Comm John Makamure

THE Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) is on record calling on all those entrusted with managing resources earmarked for fighting Covid-19 to exercise a high degree of transparency and accountability in their work or face the long arm of the law for any transgressions.

The call by the commission is informed by its constitutional role to promote honesty, financial discipline and transparency in the public and private sectors, and to combat corruption, theft, misappropriation, abuse of power and other improper conduct in the same sectors.

ZACC has lived up to its warnings by maintaining constant vigilance on how the Covid-19 resources are used.

Teams from investigations and compliance departments were deployed to specifically look into the procurement, distribution and use of the resources.

This comes after ZACC chairperson Justice Loyce Matanda-Moyo warned ministers against involvement in procurement in parastatals under their purview, saying: “Ministers must distance themselves from procurement; because once they are involved, junior officers will be forced to overlook the right procedures . . .”

Thanks to our whistle-blowers, vital information continues to be availed to assist the teams in their work.

Recently, ZACC’s compliance and systems review unit managed to save the country over US$3 million that could have been siphoned to line the pockets of corrupt elements in our midst.

These individuals imposed proxy companies, which did not comply with provisions of the Procurement Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (PRAZ) Circular 1 of 2020 for emergency procurement of Covid-19 materials.

The individuals went on to demand payments of goods at an extremely inflated cost.

The ZACC compliance team’s intervention, after having been informed of the unavailability of the said materials, subsequently resulted in the cancellation of the tender, saving State funds in the process.

The matter is now under investigation in order to bring those behind this scam to book.

Because Covid-19 is a global pandemic, the response is naturally of an emergency nature.

In taking such emergency measures, countries have necessarily relaxed safeguards by trading compliance, oversight and accountability for speed of response and achievement of rapid impact, thus leading to the creation of significant opportunities for corruption to thrive.

While recognising the need for urgent action to prevent economic and social collapse, the lack of sufficient accountability and oversight mechanisms in the allocation and distribution of Covid-19 resources increases the risk that corruption and fraud will weaken the envisaged impact, and result in a shortfall of desperately needed aid reaching the intended beneficiaries, and impacting negatively on the least powerful among the population.

In the case of Zimbabwe, Government has granted ZACC the necessary space to enforce transparency and accountability measures despite the unavoidable emergency procurement of Covid-19 materials.

The commission will leave no stone unturned to uproot corruption and complement Government efforts to restore sanity in the health delivery sector.

We would like to emulate other countries that have successfully curbed corruption in the management of resources earmarked to fight the pandemic.

Critically, resources earmarked for social and economic stimulus must reach intended beneficiaries.

These resources are for preventing economic catastrophe and providing financial, medical and social support to the poor, elderly, women and youth, people with disabilities, the unemployed, small and medium enterprises and those lacking access to social and public services.

They must never be looted to benefit the already well-to-do members of society.

For the past 14 months that the Fourth Commission has been in office, it has become abundantly clear that public procurement is one of the Government activities most vulnerable to corruption.

In addition to the volume of transactions and the financial interests at stake, corruption risks are exacerbated by the complexity of the process, the close interaction between public officials and businesses, and the multitude of stakeholders.

In its paper titled “Preventing Corruption in Public Procurement”, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) says the direct costs of corruption include loss of public funds through misallocations or higher expenses and lower quality of goods, services and works.

Those paying bribes seek to recover their money by inflating prices, billing for work not performed, failing to meet contract standards, reducing quality of work or using inferior materials, in case of public procurement of works.

This results in exaggerated costs and poor quality work.

This is a familiar narrative in Zimbabwe.

To ensure high levels of honesty, transparency and accountability, and maximise the efficiency and effectiveness of large-scale resource disbursement to address social and economic losses of the pandemic, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) recommends the following:

i)To prevent corruption, fraud and waste, member states should establish clear, objective and transparent criteria to ensure that those in greatest need of assistance qualify for and receive it;

ii) Identify and account for challenges inherent in various methods and processes, exercising particular caution in the use of intermediaries or distribution facilitators. At a minimum, member states should deploy safeguards commensurate with the degree of risk associated with the selected methodology;

iii) Deploy clear and effective communication channels to ensure that the intended beneficiaries are aware of their eligibility, amount and scope of benefit, and method by which their beneficiary status will be made known to the disbursement authorities;

iv) Administrative procedures should be simplified, using online platforms, social media and other resources to ensure consistent messaging;

v) The extensive availability of technological aid in financial resource management during times of crisis has allowed the world to better manage large quantities of financial resources in an efficient, transparent and safe manner. In the context of the Covid-19 crisis, using innovative technological solutions has the additional benefit of reducing potentially dangerous physical contact. Member states should, therefore, seek to fully make use of such tools to promote the effective management and efficient disbursement of crucial financial resources; and

vi) Balancing the urgent need to disburse funds and resources quickly, member states should ensure that such emergency measures are accompanied by adequate auditing, oversight, accountability and reporting mechanisms to ensure that those in need receive the designated resources, thereby preventing and mitigating corruption, fraud and waste.

Zimbabwe has in place legislation for the auditing of such resources, including donations from well-wishers.

The Auditor-General has a constitutional mandate to undertake this task.

One of the critical functions of the Auditor-General as provided for in Section 309 of the Constitution is “to order the taking of measures to rectify any defects in the management and safeguarding of public funds and public property”.

So, basically, the Auditor-General can issue directives on how best to manage public resources and these must be complied with.

This explains why the commission decided to quickly enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Auditor-General in order to cement collaborative efforts in the fight against corruption.

The commission keenly awaits tabling of the Auditor-General’s reports on the management of Covid-19 resources in order to investigate any suspected cases of corruption that are flagged.

Statutory Instrument 144 of 2019 Public Finance Management (Treasury Instructions) is another important piece of legislation.

The regulations require accounting officers to maintain a register of all gifts and donations offered or accepted during the year.

It is the responsibility of accounting officers to ensure that any conditions restricting the use of donations are complied with.

Section 115 of the regulations deal with reporting and audit of gifts and donations.

It provides for all gifts, donations or sponsorships received during the course of the financial year to be disclosed as a note to the financial statements of the ministry.

The records relating to gifts and donations should be made available for audit by internal audit, Auditor-General, and private audit firms that may be engaged by donors.

Internal audit shall audit the gifts and donation registers at least once a year.

ZACC will make follow-ups to ensure these provisions are fully complied with.

Commissioner John Makamure is the ZACC spokesperson and chairs the Committee on Prevention and Corporate Governance. ZACC Toll Free Lines: 08010101/08004367; Landline: + 263 242 369602/5/8. WhatsApp: +263 719529483; Email: reports@zacc.co.zw, infor@zacc.co.zw