Delays by the Auditor General (AG) to verify the K72 billion (about $288 million) debts accumulated during the implementation of the abandoned zero-deficit budget (ZDB) is choking the business community, it has been learnt.
Businesses that supply different materials to government fear the delay may force them out of business.
The National Audit Office (NAO), in a response to a questionnaire, acknowledged the concerns from the business community, but assured that the office has deployed the largest team of auditors ever for the exercise.
The business community has complained that government is taking too long to pay them because NAO is taking time to finish the debt verification.
Some of the suppliers, who did not want to be named for fear of being sidelined in future dealings with government, said they have already lost millions due to the devaluation of the kwacha and the rise in the bank rate.
They said they may fail to pay their suppliers outside the country due to exchange rate losses and further delays in getting paid will push them out of business.
Said one supplier: â€œDuring the time we were supplying, the exchange rate was at K168 to a dollar, but now it is at K280 to a dollar. The interest rates were at 15 percent, but now are at 35
percent and the inflation rate was hovering around eight percent but now is above 17 percent.
â€œWe are in dire need of government to restructure this debt as soon as possible since the market forces have not stabilised yet. Further delays by the National Audit Office in executing its duties in auditing and verifying these debts in the shortest period possible will result in major losses by companies and massive lay-offs of staff because our capital is still locked up in debts since government is our major buyer of goods and services.â€
NAO corporate communications officer Thomas Chafunya admitted there are concerns from suppliers over the delay, but said his organisation deployed the largest team of auditors who began their ground work early this month and working in all parts of the country.
The AG is trying to establish how government incurred such a huge debt and to check whether the services were provided or the goods delivered were before payments.