No Accountability as Gov’t Agencies Mismanage Funds




 

Last year in May the Auditor General stood before Parliament and gave a report on the Pharmaceutical Fund Supply Agency (PFSA), a federal agency. The findings stated that the Agency had a stored collection of expired drugs, medical equipment and some unexpired drugs worth a staggering half a billion Birr rotting away in warehouses. Not to mention the fact that these drugs, which are now out of use, were purchased with taxpayers’ money.

On the same day, the Auditor General presented audited reports to Parliament, summarizing the financial performance of 145 federal offices, 294 weredas and city administrations as well as 27 branch offices of federal agencies, exposing how badly the financial affairs of the country are being mismanaged.

The reports by the Auditor General pose urgent questions to the Administration of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. At the moment in the political arena in Ethiopia there is pressure and movement to hold top government officials accountable for what falls and fails under their jurisdiction.

The Prime Minister was recently seen sitting up on the Parliament podium with the Speaker of the House, in a bid to address members of Parliament, some of whom have raised questions in a rather unusual tone. People want to see those in power being challenged and confronted; but the practice as it is currently set up helps those in charge to avoid accountability for their actions or inaction.

The Administration has failed to take actions against institutions that have failed to use their budgets appropriately. When confronted, the leaders of these institutions come up with one excuse after another while the problems continue year after year.

It was reported that in the 2014/15 fiscal year there was a total of 6.3 billion Br that was unaccounted for from the public account. This is not to mention revenues that were found to be unrecorded in financial reports for the same fiscal year. Similarly, 77 million Br in revenues was collected but not reported.

This problem has been on alarming increase since 2014. Over time, the number of government agencies with financial books in disarray has increased. Five years ago, there were just 11 offices that were in question; but now there are 37 offices.

Most of the money spent by these agencies violates the very legal framework that guides the procurement process and instances of spending beyond the budget. For instance, in another worrying development, the astounding level of debt – over 100 billion Birr – incurred by the Ethiopian Railways Corporation (ERC) has raised eyebrows of Members of Parliament. A new and efficient adjustment is needed.

These financial issues – and lack of accountability thereof – are a huge obstacle when the country is trying to marshal every available resource to achieve a middle-income status among nations and kick start an industrial transformation.

The questions remain, and the frustration builds. The problem is getting bigger and deeper and the Administration must immediately address the problems. The government must explain why such budget blunders are being passed without serious consequences; and it needs to be explained to taxpayers.

More importantly though, the country’s recent political turmoil is a clear indication that the checks and balances needed to run a government efficiently have failed. A clear sign of these problems through the normal political process is the sight of citizens taking to the streets and rebelling against the government to ask for accountability and transparency in the affairs of the state.

It should not be that way for there are alternatives and experiences worthy of policymakers’ attention. In the Westminster system, for instance, which originated in Great Britain and is being applied around the world, the office of the Auditor General is an independent body that reports to Parliament. The office is in charge of submitting reports on the financial statements and operations of government institutions, but serving no judicial function. If necessary, it can submit its findings in the court of law or legal establishment.

In Ethiopia, the checks and balances principle, in which separate branches are empowered to prevent actions by other branches and are made to share power, is not common. It is another kind of limitation that shows that there is no accountability. This principle is fundamental and important. A sign that there is democracy in a certain country is the checks and balance role and system that separate the power of the legislative, the executive, and the judiciary. The checks and balances limit these bodies from exercising unchecked power; that is ideally and in the constitution.

In the case of Ethiopia, the ruling party dominates the executive and exerts enormous power over other branches such as the judiciary while it has an absolute control of the legislator, thus getting carte blanche in passing laws despite challenges from its political opponents outside. This makes it hard to pinpoint the problem when issues such as mismanaged finances and accountability come into play. Furthermore, it makes it difficult, if not impossible, to take action because there is no entity that could hold an EPRDFite minister accountable in the floors of Parliament.

Not only this, in a closed off dominant political systems like Ethiopia, partisanship undermines legitimate checks and balances. The executive currently holds a monopoly on power and had near omnipotent power. If no one is stepping up and demanding answers when there are questions of transparency and accountability, the problems are likely to continue.

That is why Ethiopia needs to employ a competitive political system in which different parties are able to participate in the government. There needs to be an end to the monopolization of the public space by the ruling party. It needs to open its doors to other views to create a balance. This is the way that most states have been able to strike the right balance in their constitutional systems and have transparency and accountability imposed.

 



Published on Feb 07,2017 [ Vol 17 ,No 875]


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