Public Financial Management: Why access to information is critical?
By Norman Mudadisi, Vusumuzi Ndlovu , Samantha Manyeka and Siduduzile Masilela
Lack of trust and confidence in how government generates, distributes, spends and accounts for public resources to meet the development needs of the citizens is a major challenge.
Gwanda residents have lamented lack of transparency and accountability in the management of revenue generated from the district’s vast mineral wealth –especially gold. The region is blessed with notable natural resources such as minerals, wildlife and scenery but the local community feels highly excluded especially when it comes to benefitting from their resource’s revenue.
At a workshop held at the Gwanda Hotel and organized by the Zimbabwe Environmental Lawyers Association (ZELA) on the 7th and 8th May 2019 it was established that knowledge is power and that there are key documents which are integral in the management of public funds by the public entities. These documents include, the Auditor General’s Report, Expenditure Reports and the Country’s Budget which are accessible for public consumption.
The workshop saw the unpacking of the Auditor General’s mandate. The Auditor-General’s Office (OAG) is an Independent Office established under the Audit Office Act (Chapter 22:18). The Office is charged with the primary oversight / assurance role of ensuring accountability within the three arms of government (Legislature, Judiciary and the Executive) as well as the Constitutional Commissions and Independent Offices.
The Auditor-General is mandated to audit and report in respect to each financial year on the accounts of departments, institutions and agencies of government, all provincial and metropolitan councils and all local authorities, designated corporate boards, statutory funds and other boards that could have used public resources in discharging their functions.
Secondly, there are Monthly Expenditure Reports. The monthly expenditure reports present cash flows and expenditures made by relevant ministries for example the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development and these reports appear on the Government gazette on a monthly basis.
Thirdly, there is the budget which clearly shows the amount of revenue that could have been allocated to various departments, provincial and metropolitan councils and all local authorities. Citizens participation in the consultation takes place in the initial stages of budget formulation. Information on the budget consultative meetings is circulated prior so that citizens prepare in advance for the submissions.
Citizen participation will ensure that the Government institution that monitors the allocated funds is able to track expenditure and progress made in developing various areas.
Furthermore, by effectively participating in the budget consultative process, communities are given a platform to voice their opinions. Citizen participation also makes it difficult for corrupt entities to misuse funds since the citizens partake in continuous audits.
All this requires the involvement of the OAG to constantly assess the risks brought about by the evolving environment so as to: perform “real time” transactions; respond instantly to issues of national, and any public concerns that require immediate audit or investigation; optimize use of audit resources while increasing audit activity and improve financial systems and business processes for effective risk management, control and governance.
In conclusion, Section 13 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe (Amendment No 20) of 2013 (4) notes that, the state must ensure that local communities’ benefit from the resources in their areas. Community Based Organizations and the citizens should be able to access the stated documents and participate in the development processes in their localities. Such a move will promote accountability and transparency in public institutions.