Lock the board chairmen up

21 July 2016
This week, there were media reports of N$2 million that was ‘found’ to be missing from the Marine Resources Fund. 
Further reports from the Standing Committee on Public Accounts revealed unaccounted N$342 million from NSFAF; the Development Brigade Corporation (DBC) has ‘misplaced’ millions and the Namibian Broadcasting Cooperation (NBC) cannot account for more than N$2,5 million in revenue generated.
These reported inconsistencies come from documents that are as much as six years old.   It is a concern that those reporting before the parliamentary committee and asked to account for these funds are not the ones responsible for the gaps in accounting records or loss of funds.
This story is not new.  These entities are not the only SOEs or government agencies over the last several years that have been called on the carpet for budgetary inconsistencies.
In reviewing past media reports, it seems as if the majority of SOEs are not up-to-date on their presentation of audited financial reports or tabling of annual reports in parliament.
This is a grave concern.  Are Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck responsible for record keeping, preparation of annual reports and audited statements at organisations responsible for managing hundreds of millions in State funds?
Just as the intolerable silence that is happening after the rip-off of more than N$25 million of State funds by a conman for the so-called KORA awards, “it wasn’t me” seems to be the anthem of those questioned about the missing or incorrectly logged funds from other government entities as well.
We would want to know if theft and corruption is involved in these cases where millions are just…gone.  We can’t even know that actual theft or embezzlement happened because the records needed to prove this simply don’t exist anymore.
Whether ineptness, malfeasance or human error has caused financial records not to tally, is actually irrelevant because the larger problem remains unaddressed.
We are chasing elves at Christmas time if we think we can ‘find’ money or documents to indicate where money has gone six years later.  If there is massive theft in these and other cases (which is likely), then those who did the stealing are gone with the wind by now. 
The cars or cows or curtains they bought with the booty from their misdeeds are a done deal.  Such criminals have probably moved on to richer stealing grounds and have no memory of what happened to money they purloined years ago. 
If the issue is poor record keeping and lack of following financial accounting rules, then the perpetrators have likely gone on to bigger and better blunders in the six intervening years and we won’t find out about that for another six years. 
Those responsible won’t be re-trained to stop making such huge record-keeping errors or fired from their posts saving GRN the cost of cleaning up after them.
We wait too long for such financial inconsistencies to come to light and then we make things worse by forgetting about the entire story in the wink of an eye while money is shovelled out of the back doors of dozens of finance and procurement offices across the country.
Then, we squawk, shout, march and protest about having no money for the social programmes we say we desperately need. 
There are laws that require audited financial statements within six months of the close of the fiscal year.  And yet, many SOEs haven’t tabled budgets in parliament for years. Who is being fired for this?  Who is going to jail for this? 
 Audited statements done as per the law would have caught these ‘losses’ years ago and something tangible could have been done to address the matter.  If boards are acting with true due diligence, they would know they are in violation of the law if their accounts are not in order and filed properly – and they would rectify the matter as a point of urgency.
The parliamentary committee involved should stop their proceedings immediately and lay charges against the board chairman of each negligent SOE/government agency they are investigating.
The law has been violated.  Anyone tabling aged financials as their latest reports has broken the law as an institution and heads must roll.
We cannot talk nice about accountability and make a show of signing performance agreements and not take action for the abdication of financial oversight by boards.  Let them dance with their sitting allowances and board fees to the cold, hard jail cell tunes when their agencies act against the law.

Lock them up, even if it is just for a week.  Do this consistently and you will see very quickly a change in how the authorities running government agencies stop their lackadaisical approach to being accountable for the use of State funds.


The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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