Leonard Ncube, Victoria Falls Reporter
THE Auditor General (AG)’s office says its operations have been hampered by the Covid-19 pandemic and skills flight resulting in delays in the completion of key reports.
Presenting the office’s priority areas at the just ended Parliament pre-budget seminar here, the Auditor General, Mrs Mildred Chiri, said her office requires more than $7 billion to digitalise operations and refurbish offices to be able to fully execute its mandate.
She said they just completed the 2019 report with the 2020 report expected in December. Mrs Chiri said the delays were caused by the successive lockdowns imposed as a result of Covid-19 as the office was not operating at full capacity since the first case was detected in the country in March last year.The statutory deadline for release of audit report by the AG’s office is June 30.
The office operated at 10 percent capacity most of the time, and was closed for more than two weeks at some point after 23 staff members tested positive to the virus during the third wave.
“I would like to preface my presentation with the impact of Covid-19 because that speaks to some of the priority areas that my office has come up with. Covid-19 greatly disrupted operations in my office but we are glad to be able to do some more work now,” she said.
“Under normal circumstances, audits are executed with face-to-face interaction with the client whereby you interrogate and get your answers but due to the need to avoid infections we could not do these normal activities.
“And because we don’t have enough manpower and we have not digitalised, we could not conduct our audit at full scale.”
Mrs Chiri said they could not visit stations outside Harare and sometimes they would ask clients to bring or scan and send documents, which was a slow process and faced resistance from ministries and departments who have multiple pages of financial documents that need auditing.
She said she could not undertake audit remotely because her office is not yet digitalised. Mrs Chiri implored Finance and Economic Development Minister Professor Mthuli Ncube to set aside funding for digitalising the AG’s office, recruitment, repairing office for better working environment and ensuring value for money through skills outsourcing.
“As a result, this greatly affected the 2019 and 2020 audit reports. At least we have managed to have the audit report for 2019 but we are still busy with the 2020 audit report and we are glad that we are now having 50 percent of staff coming to office,” she said.
“So, we are working very hard within this period to complete the 2020 audit report. For the 2022 budget we have been allocated an envelope ceiling of $2,3 billion but we reckon we need $7,3 billion for rehabilitation and digitalising the office, procurement portal and registry management.
“We feel going paperless will help us meet our statutory deadline, which is June 30. Now that we have now managed to have the 2019 out of the way, we are hoping the 2020 report should be out in mid-December if there are no any other hitches,” said Mrs Chiri.
The office needs audit management software, new savers and 300 laptops as the old equipment is constantly crashing, said the AG.
She said her office was affected by skills flight as staff join the private sector during lockdown leaving 126 vacancies.
The AG’s office is operating with 381 staff, she said.
The AG’s office is critical as it addresses governance issues as a national priority thereby enhancing service delivery transparency and accountability in the economic recovery drive. – @ncubeleon