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ZEC refuses to be audited by Chiri over public funds

by Staff reporter
09 Apr 2022 at 11:14hrs | Views
THE Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec), which is always accused of electoral fraud and subverting the people's will, while undermining democracy; especially ahead of the critical 2023 general elections, is caught in a major accountability and transparency gap — this time not on elections, but on public funds.

Besides being accused of stealing elections, Zec, partly staffed with state security agents not used to accounting for state finances openly, by implication wants to steal public funds without oversight.

Zec is listed in Auditor-General Mildred Chiri's 31 December 2020 financial year-end report on Appropriation Accounts, Finance and Revenue Statements and Fund Accounts presented to Parliament recently in 2022 as one of those public bodies that violated the law and governance requirements by failing to submit statutory returns since 2019.

The other entities include the Information ministry, National Council of Chiefs, Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission, and the Zimbabwe Media Commission. Their failure to meet their statutory obligations meant that Chiri could not ascertain "the completeness of the consolidated schedule of outstanding revenue submitted for audit".

The risk of Zec and other public bodies' violation of the law and abdication of duty and responsibility is that overall outstanding revenue might be understated, prejudicing the public of millions of dollars and misinforming policymakers in the process.

Chiri's key finding was: "As previously reported, the following ministries/commissions did not submit their schedules of outstanding revenue for the year ended December 31, 2019 for audit examination in contravention of Section 32 (1) of the Public Finance Management Act (Chapter 22;19) and were not included in the Treasury consolidated schedule of outstanding revenue. Therefore, I could not ascertain the completeness of the consolidated schedule of outstanding revenue submitted for audit".

After assessing her finding, and the associated risks and implications, Chiri made a recommendation. "Treasury should remind all ministries, departments and commissions to ensure that they submit statutory returns for audit examination in order to promote transparency and accountability," her report says.

The report further says Treasury has written to the Information ministry, National Council of Chiefs, Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission, Zimbabwe Media Commission and Zec to submit their 2019 schedules of outstanding revenue to enable Treasury to consolidate the figures, but in vain.

There was also no progress in addressing similar findings made before, resulting in financial distortions.

"Treasury did not avail corrected accounts to confirm whether or not the omission of non-tax revenue amounting to ZW$218 853 671 on the year 2017 closing balance had been rectified," it says.

"No reconciliations were availed for audit inspection with regard to the variance of ZW$128 603 185 highlighted in the year 2018 that emanated from disparities between total outstanding revenue disclosed by line ministries/departments of ZW$5 351 127 809 and Treasury's figure of ZW$5 479 730 994."

Zec is supposed to be an independent and publicly funded commission constituted in terms of chapter 12 of the constitution of Zimbabwe.

It is mandated with preparing for, conducting and supervising presidential and parliamentary elections; elections to provincial and metropolitan councils as well as governing bodies of local authorities; election of members of the National Council of Chiefs; referendums; and to ensure that elections and referendums are conducted efficiently, freely, fairly, transparently and in accordance with the law.

Zec also supervises elections of the president of the Senate and the speaker of Parliament to ensure that they are conducted efficiently and in accordance with the law.

Contrary to holding elections "efficiently, freely, fairly" as required by law, Zec has been subjected to a torrent of criticism for lack of transparency and credibility in conducting elections.

The criticism and scrutiny is cascading to the electoral commission's books of account, with the Auditor-General accusing it of violating the law by failing to submit statutory accounts for audit.

In her 2020 audit report, Chiri says these entities — including Zec — have failed the transparency and accountability test.

"Section 32 (1) of the Public Finance Management Act (Chapter 22:19) requires every director of finance to prepare and submit annual financial statements for audit," her report reads.

"Contrary to the above-mentioned provision, as previously reported, the following commissions did not submit their statements of receipts and disbursements for the year ended December 31, 2019 for audit examination: Zacc, Zec and ZMC.

"Therefore, l could not satisfy myself whether or not public funds received by these commissions during the financial year under review were properly accounted for."

There was no explanation from Zec on why it failed to avail its books for auditing.

Zacc, for its part, said it had availed its books, but Chiri insisted that the accounts had not reached her office.

"I acknowledge the response from the management (that Zacc had presented its reports), however outstanding returns from the three commissions were still to be availed for audit examination at the time of concluding this audit," her report says.

Zec's violation of the law over the legally required annual audits further plunges it into shadowy operations.

Ahead of the 26 March by-elections, the opposition was denied access to the voters' roll, with the CCC's secretary-general Chalton Hwende being accosted by police offices outside Zec offices when he had gone to inquire on the vote register.

In its report titled "Sowing seeds of illegitimacy — An analysis of the pre-electoral and electoral environment of the 26 March, 2022 by-elections in Zimbabwe", Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition says Zec's behaviour confirmed it was unable to conduct credible, transparent, free and fair elections.

It said "the conduct of Zec ahead of this particular election laid bare its inability to act in a professional and impartial manner in managing the whole electoral process".

Activist group Team Pachedu flagged several Zec irregularities, including changes to over 150 polling stations, while 177 000 voters were moved from their polling stations without their knowledge in direct violation of the Electoral Act.

In February, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network challenged Zec to allow independent experts to scrutinise and audit the voters' roll to restore public confidence, but the call yielded no results.

Churches which observed the 26 March by-elections under the Ecumenical Election Observation team banner also said Zec was far from professional in its conduct of the elections.

"Zec's handling of the voters' roll raised a lot of concerns before and during the elections. On the 18th of February, Zec issued a Press statement that was originally meant to clarify some issues that had emerged through the various social media platforms. Through the statement, Zec's presentation was interpreted to mean that the voters' roll that had been in the public domain being analysed by different actors was a tampered copy and that it had been inappropriately released through verbal request.

"This raised concerns that the voters' roll was not protected and could be tampered with. For the church, this case raised concerns regarding either the competency or credibility of Zec."

Source - NewsHawks
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