Cabinet Should Hit the Ground Running

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With Cabinet Ministers having taken the oath of office on Monday to signal the official commencement of their work, we say they have to hit the ground running as intimated by President Mnangagwa during his inauguration a fortnight ago, and at his first Cabinet meeting on Tuesday where he set targets and told his team to think outside the box.

Mr Speaker Sir, Members of the Executive, particularly ministers and permanent secretaries, who are the accounting officers, must know the provisions of the Public Finance and Management Act, which requires them to give regular returns on the financial performance of their respective ministries to Parliament.

In his opening remarks at the inaugural Cabinet meeting, the Head of State and Government said every minister should “think outside the box” and pursue “high speed programme execution.”

Over the past years, most ministries have been found wanting in respect of compliance with the Public Finance and Management Act requiring them to submit regular reports to Parliament.

It would not be surprising, therefore, to note that consequent to that act of omission or commission, most ministries and State enterprises got adverse reports from Auditor-General, Ms Mildred Chiri, in her annual reports because very little monitoring was being done in respect of the ministries.

It becomes imperative, therefore, Mr Speaker Sir, for the incoming Cabinet to submit the reports in terms of the law as that is the cornerstone of achieving the economic turnaround envisaged by President Mnangagwa.

It goes without saying, Mr Speaker Sir, that one of the cornerstones of economic turnaround is accountability and portfolio committees should ensure that ministries submit the reports.

Section 15 of the Public Finance and Management Act provides as follows: (1) Every minister shall lay before the House of Assembly —

(a) the annual report and financial statements referred to in Part IV and the audit report on those statements, within one month after the accounting officer for the public entity or constitutional entity for which the minister is responsible, receives the report; and

(2) If a Minister fails to lay before the House of Assembly, in accordance with subsection (1)(a), the annual report and financial statements of the public entity or constitutional entity, and the audit report on those statements, within six months after the end of the financial year to which those statements relate —

(a) the Speaker of the House of Assembly shall require the minister concerned to give a written explanation to the House of Assembly setting out the reasons why they were not laid before it; and

(b) the Comptroller and Auditor-General may issue a special report on the delay.”

In addition to that, Section 33 (2) of the same Act provides as follows: “(2) Every accounting officer shall submit quarterly financial statements and reports for submission by the minister to the appropriate Parliamentary Portfolio Committee, within sixty days of the end of the respective quarter.”

Section 34 (2) of the Act provides: “2) Every accounting officer shall submit monthly financial statements and reports for submission by the minister to the appropriate Parliamentary Portfolio Committee, within thirty days of the respective month.”

Mr Speaker Sir, it is critical that portfolio committees that shadow Government ministries ensure the fulfilment of the requisite law if economic turnaround is to be expeditiously achieved as envisaged by President Mnangagwa.

To his credit, Mr Speaker Sir, President Mnangagwa has set the tone for economic recovery by announcing a leaner Cabinet and extending a three month moratorium to allow those that might have externalised money to repatriate it on a no-questions asked basis.

The Executive ought to know that Parliament’s role is not just to legislate but to exercise oversight in them, particularly in respect of how they handle the public purse or national resources in which they play a fiduciary role on behalf of the people of Zimbabwe.

Treasury makes disbursements to various ministries in terms of the budget vote and it is a requirement for Ministries in terms of Public Finance and Management Act and the Constitution to give regular returns, quarterly reports to be precise, on the financial performance of ministries.

It goes without saying from the reading of the Act that your office, Mr Speaker Sir, has powers to deal with errant ministers who fail to comply with the law. It is everyone’s expectation that your good office will invoke the law where appropriate, to ensure that the letter and spirit of the law is followed.

It was also refreshing to note that Home Affairs Minister Dr Obert Mpofu upon being sworn in on Monday, vowed to deal with corruption and the prevalence of roadblocks which most motorists viewed as a haven for corrupt activities. Ministries should not just moan about meagre resources or non-disbursement of resources when they are failing to account for the little made available to them.

This is where Parliament, either through portfolio committees or plenary, must come in. Legislators can also discharge this oversight function in their constituencies by assessing how Government programmes are fairing and if there is value for money.

The new Cabinet should know that it is no longer business as usual and, more importantly, that they are accountable to Parliament as part of checks and balances provided for in the Constitution.

The Public Accounts Committee chaired by Mufakose MP Ms Paurina Mpariwa should redouble its effort in ensuring that ministries put to good use all the resources allocated to them.

It is also refreshing that the Transport and Infrastructural Development Committee chaired by Chegutu West MP Cde Dexter Nduna has invited Geiger International to explain what delayed commencement of construction of the Beitbridge-Harare-Chirundu road, which was commissioned by former President Mugabe several months ago.

People, Mr Speaker Sir, particularly motorists and the travelling public, are eager to know what is going on. All these issues, Mr Speaker Sir, mean that legislators have a lot of work to do in discharging their oversight role if the aspirations of President Mnangagwa and Zimbabweans are to be realised.