Lesotho Times

Public sector corruption just a tip of the iceberg

IT is a well-known fact that corruption in the public sector undermines service provision, especially to the poorest and most vulnerable who are dependent on government services.

While there has been some reporting of corruption within the public sector by the media, it is possible that what is being reported is only a small fraction of the corrupt practices, because there are very low levels of awareness of what is contained in public budgets (partly because these were not available to the public).

The second reason is that there is a lack of clarity of the programme commitments of the different ministries and the outcomes as ministries do not make their annual strategic plans and reports available to the public.

Third, oversight bodies that are responsible for generating information on how well ministries are using public resources and achieving outcomes set out in their strategic plans are weak and ineffective.

It would be in the interests of a government that wants and expects to be re-elected on the basis of its service record to have an independent body to certify that it used resources efficiently and according to the provisions of the law, and achieved planned outcomes.

However, the Office of the Auditor General and the Public Accounts Committee in Lesotho do not have the required levels of independence from government and resources to fully take up the responsibility of holding “all officers and authorities of the government” to account.

In terms of the Constitution of Lesotho, the responsibility of the Auditor General is, “at least once in every year to audit and report on the public accounts of all officers and authorities of the government, the accounts of all courts in Lesotho, the accounts of every commission established by this Constitution and the accounts of the clerk of each House of Parliament”.

In order to perform the functions fully, the Constitution requires that the Auditor General’s office should be free from any political influence or pressure.

A fully functional Office of the Auditor General would allow Parliament to hold the Executive accountable by auditing “at least once in every year” the accounts of ministries and making its report available to MPs and citizens.

Ideally, the annual reports of ministries should contain an audited statement of accounts together with the remarks of the office of the Auditor General.

This allows citizens and civil society organisations with an interest in particular ministries to easily access the full record of the ministries’ functions for the year under consideration.

This is currently a practice in South Africa and the annual reports of ministries are easily accessible on the ministries’ websites and from the Government Communications and Information Services office.

As the Office of the Auditor General has no enforcement powers, Parliament has the responsibility to call ministers and their staff to account on the basis of findings in the Auditor General’s report.

MPs have powers to not only consider the financial and accounting procedures but consider whether the ministries have met the outcomes as set out in their annual strategic plans and ministers are obliged to explain themselves to members.

However, the weakness of the two oversight bodies in terms of resources (human and financial), level of independence from the executive, ability to fully grasp the budget and programme issues, lack of trained support staff, in terms of the MPs, the office of the Auditor General is playing catch up in terms of audit and the audit reports are presented to a Parliament that is not fully able and mostly uninterested in holding the Executive responsible.

MPs also have to deal with reports that are more than four years old whose relevance has receded.

The tendency to vote into power governments with significant majorities is mostly to blame for the unwillingness and inability of Parliament to hold the Executive accountable, due to the lack of independence from the Executive and the implications for members who do not toe the party line.

However, additional factors, including the ones mentioned in the preceding paragraphs and a dependence of Parliament on information and research generated by government structures undermines the ability of Parliament to fully carry out its oversight responsibilities.

There is need to increase budget allocations to Parliament, not to increase the salaries or benefits of members, but to allow for sufficient and well trained support to members and to the offices of Parliament, including allowing Parliament to hire staff directly rather than through the Public Service Commission, as recommended in the report of the Lesotho Parliamentary Reform Process of 2004 – 2005.

More or less the same improvements need to be made to the Office of the Auditor General, with an additional legislative requirement for ministries to have their accounts audited every year and to make a budgetary allocation for such auditing by the Office of the Auditor General.

The requirement for ministries to budget for their own auditing limits the possibility of a corrupt government limiting resources to the office and therefore rendering it ineffective.

However, this requirement can work where the other support structures in the public finance management process fully support the functions of the supreme audit body and are committed to transparent financial management.

This would include treasury in the Ministry of Finance, Parliament, the national planning commission, Council of State, the Public Accounts Committee, the office of the Ombudsman and there is a judiciary committed to upholding the provisions of the Constitution.

While the current situation in all of these institutions is bleak, a committed government can easily overcome all the hurdles given continued pressure from citizens and organised institutions of civil society.

 

Relebohile Senyane is Lead Implementation Officer for a Sadc Child Budget Network (Imali Ye Mwana) a project of Idasa which focuses on supporting child rights organisations in the Sadc region. She holds
an MA degree in International Training and Education

Lesotho Times

Lesotho's widely read newspaper, published every Thursday and distributed throughout the country and in some parts of South Africa.

Contact us today: News: editor@lestimes.co.ls Advertising: marketing@lestimes.co.ls Telephone: +266 2231 5356

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