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President Mnangagwa fires accountant-general

PHILLIMON MHLANGA

PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa has sacked accountant-general, Daniel Muchemwa, months after it emerged that the country’s public accounts were in shambles, Business Times can report.

Edwin Zvandasara, the deputy accountant general, is acting accountant-general. Muchemwa’s removal from office, apparently, has come at a time when Treasury accounting system, which he presided over since 2015, when he took over from the late Judith Madzorera, is in shambles.

His main mandate was to compile and manage public accounts and the custody and safety of public resources, making it a critical office responsible for ensuring adequate and effective controls in the public finance management in central government, local authorities and State enterprises.

He was also responsible for spearheading the reform agenda of public enterprises as well as follow up the enforcement of matters raised by the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and observations raised by the auditor general.

Given the abuse and mismanagement of public funds due to lax in systems and the shambolic state of government’s accounts, he apparently appears to have failed in his role. The move ended the dogged accountant’s career in which public funds have been mismanaged.

Finance Minister, Mthuli Ncube and secretary George Guvamatanga could not be reached for comment by the time of going to print. Their mobile telephones continuously went unanswered.

But Tendai Kachasu, a senior official at the accountant general’s office confirmed Muchemwa’s departure to Business Times on the sidelines of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Zimbabwe (ICAZ) public sector convention held in the capital last week.

“Yes he (Muchemwa) has left and deputy accountant-general (Edwin Zvandasara) is acting,” Kachasu said.

PAC chairman, Tendai Biti, who works closely with the accountant general’s office also confirmed the development at the ICAZ convention.

“There is always a monster hidden if you take a look at government financials, which are in shambles. It’s a narrative of State failure. We find basic issues like failure to produce annual statements, monthly reports etc. There are so many vulnerables but I hear the accountant general has been fired because of failure to deal with weak internal financial controls. When the gatekeeper becomes the gatecrasher, we need to pray,” Biti said.

The accountant-general’s office, according to auditor-general, Mildred Chiri’s reports, has also been failing to do basic things like reconciliations on its account, resulting in huge variances on its books of accounts, which are currently in shambles.

Financial experts, who spoke to Business Times this week said regular reconciliations ensures that transactions processed are valid, accurate and duly authorised. During Muchemwa’s tenure as accountant general, expenditure could not be validated as true outlay for government, seriously undermining accountability and transparency. The other problem was that no adequate books of accounts have been maintained by Treasury to ensure that financial transactions are recorded and disclosed.

It also came to light that suspense account has not been investigated and no necessary adjustments were being done to ensure that the statement of financial position was fairly stated. According to Biti, the suspense account could be used to conceal fraudulent activities at the Ministry of Finance because in some instances, clearances were made without supporting vouchers to validate the transactions, meaning payments could have been made to wrong creditors and there was high risk of fraud.

The government, it also emerged, has been operating without accounting procedures manual. Muchemwa was charged with coming up with one, but by the time he left his post, no manual was put in place. There was also no accounting and reporting standards upon which the Appropriation and Fund accounts financial statements were prepared. In the absence of accounting and reporting standards, stakeholders or users of financial statements may lose confidence in the accounting, management and reporting of public finance.

The rot, according to PAC, could have caused government losing close to ZWL$5 billion in the past few years due to a lax in Treasury’s internal control systems, delinquency and lack of compliance with government procurement regulations. Most payments done from the Treasury show that there were huge figures that were not properly accounted for, amounting to serious delinquency.

The violation of the Appropriation Act and the Public Finance Management Act means there could be rampant abuse of public funds in government, under the watch of Muchemwa. Government, especially the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, has been making direct payments to some dubious and unknown entities without supporting vouchers that made up the figures to validate the expenditures.

Muchemwa could not be reached for comment. Recently, PAC raised red flag, saying government could have lost more than ZWL$5 billion through dubious and inflated payments from Treasury’s main exchequer account without supporting or source documents.

Of this amount, more than ZWL$1 billion was paid to energy company Sakunda Energy claimed to have been for inputs for the controversial Command Agriculture.

Muchemwa, the Ministry of Finance chief principal director, Zvinechimwe Churu and Treasury Budget director, Fidelis Ngorora, recently admitted the laxity and promised to correct the current shambolic position.

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