By: Anthony Bwalya
I write this, not as a member of the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND), but rather as an aspiring candidate for my home Constituency of #Kabushi at the next coming general election in 2021; as well as a concerned citizen deeply worried about the unimpeded, long-standing plunder and theft of public resources at the hands of public officers.
A few weeks ago, we had a high profile case in my local Constituency where staff at my local clinic at Lubuto were left to work under very difficult night conditions owing to the absence of alternative energy sources each time the health facility was loadshedded. It had to take a “donation” from the area Member of Parliament Bowman Chilosha Lusambo, apparently at the instruction of the PRESIDENT, for a Genset to be delivered to the facility.
Incidentally, Lubuto Clinic was just one among several other local health facilities with this problem.
Kabushi Constituency also has a number of critical roads that have not been worked on for a very long time, and with the advent of the rains, will become a real challenge for our people to navigate; which will make doing business a chore for our people.
The reason for all these Constituency challenges is that the national fiscal space is thin, with nearly 91% of it now taken up by a combination of debt service repayments and public sector emoluments.
But, it is the public sector emoluments component that concerns me the most, because even at political party level, the UPND believes Zambia can and should be able to achieve a public sector wage bill of 30% – 35% of our total fiscal space. Yet, these expectations are constantly threatened by the unscrupulous, unchecked, undeterred corrupt and pure thieving activities from within the civil service.
My contention is that with the right kind of public sector management systems anchored on enhanced accountability, there would be enough money to go towards actual community development activities in places like #Kabushi and many others across our vast country.
Public sector payroll scandal is a multidimensional problem that involves a lot of people across the public sector, and this scam has been going on for many, many years. The problem has also evidently been exacerbated by multi system failures in the manner the public sector handles recruitment, deployment, personnel monitoring, payroll management; as well as there not being present the right tone at the top of the highest level of government.
What is most worrying is that the same people who have been at the center of either perpetrating this evil, or at the heart of a failure to manage public systems to protect public reaources, are now the same people telling the Republican PRESIDENT that they will fix the rot.
It will not work.
For them, it will be all about burying the skeletons and covering up for each other so that accountability on their part is never attained.
The public must reject that.
To get to the bottom of this issue, an independent public inquiry is needed in order to completely lift the lid off this dirty scam. We need to know how this has been possible, how long it’s been going on for, who has been involved, what the current systems weaknesses are, control environment remedies and how we shall recover these stolen resources promptly.
Some of the fundamental questions we need answers to are:
1. How does PSMD account for deceased employees to ensure that these are promptly taken off payroll? Who ensures that this is done and how do they evidence it?
2. How does PSMD account for transfers and ensure that payroll stations are timely changed for employees? Who ensures that there is no duplication of payroll lines for transferred employees across multiple stations and how do they ascertain this?
3. How does PSMD account for new recruits and ensure that these are actually promptly put on payroll and that they actually start receiving their salaries on time? We have had numerous instances where new recruits – nurses, doctors, teachers, have been assigned work stations, placed on payroll and yet they do not start receiving their salaries and other benefits for several months after the commencement of their assignments. How does PSMD ensure that unscrupulous officers do not divert salaries meant for new recruits into their own personal and other ghost accounts?
4. How does PSMD manage payroll? How do HR personal account for every head on payroll and how do they evidence this? How is this payroll reviewed, what are they doing when reviewing this payroll and how are they evidencing this?
5. How does PSMD pick up duplicates and other irregularities in public sector payroll? Is there an inbuilt automatic system to flag irregularities off and how are these dealt with?
6. Who has the authority to create and change payroll accounts and what controls or checks exist to ensure that these individuals do not abuse their assigned authority?
7. Was there a specific failure of duty on the part of officers, both junior, middle management and Senior civil servants? Are we able to identify where this failure occured and how it occurred?
8. This problem appears to have been going on for more than 10 years. How did it happen that no one saw this, or could this have been a well designed thieving syndicate involving senior civil servants?
9. Is there a system in place specially for identifying ghost workers? If so, how does this system work? If not, why when we have known for a very time of the existence of this problem?
But after all these questions have been answered, PSMD needs to be given SMART performance objectives and targets which they must deliver without fail; or there must be a heavy price to pay by those in charge.
When over 60% of Zambians live beneath the margins of poverty, less than $1.25 per day, it is unfathomable that in a country that boasts of being mounted on Christian morality, such open season plunder, theft and abuse of public systems and resources can be permitted.
We need an independent, public inquiry to get to the bottom of this problem.
The Author is a Candidate for Kabushi 2021 and Member of the UPND.