Auditor General Stevenson Kamphasa has bemoaned a lack of Data Protection Act in the country as a loophole which has resulted into people tampering with the Integrated Financial Management Information System (Ifmis).
In recent years, billions of kwacha have been reported missing from public coffers as exposed by audit reports dating back to 2012/13 and 2013/14 financial years being scrutinised by Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) by summoning controlling officers of various government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) to explain.
During yesterday’s meeting, Kamphasa said: “I don’t remember that we have the Data Protection Act in place. We rely very much on Treasury and the Public Finance Management Act [and National Audit Act].
“This gives a loophole in the system and people tamper with it the way they want knowing that nothing can happen to them by way of prosecution. It is a crime to tamper with Ifmis, but without the supporting Act, we can say people go scot-free.”
In the Auditor General’s report for the year ended June 30 2014 for the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, expenditures and payment of vouchers or even misallocation of funds to wrong codes and sometimes in codes which do not even exist on the Ifmis and the government system were noted.
Among others, Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development is reported to have made unexplained expenditure of K12.7 million posted to a non-existent code that hasn’t been traced and the officers who made the entries haven’t been brought to book.
Said Kamphasa: “If we had legislation to cater for that then we could have been able to prosecute such officers, but without it we can do nothing, as you may recall during Cashgate [plunder of public resources at Capital Hill], systems were tampered and people took advantage.”
He said currently the country uses the Public Finance Management Act to cater for all financial matters which do not consider technological errors; hence, the need for the Act to be revised to incorporate issues of data.
During the session, PAC members observed that public officers involved in the malpractice were hiding behind technology having discovered the lack of a Data Protection Act as the weak link, thus doing what they want knowing nobody can take them to book.
The members also raised concern on the tendency to transfer to other MDAs officers caught in the malpractice.
Both Grey Nyandule Phiri, a representative of the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development controlling officer, and the Auditor General confirmed the transfer of the errant officers, saying the situation is tricky.
Mwanza Central member of Parliament (MP) Davis Katsonga asked if transferring the officers to other ministries was part of government policy to solve the problem.
In response, Kamphasa said: “The question is quite tricky. Nothing has yet happened to the officers in question because they are still working within ministries of government.
“The people who were doing this can be described as being clever because they knew what they were doing. There are no laws concerning data protection.” n