District councils’ gross financial misconduct rearing its head, fast

14Feb 2022
The Guardian
District councils’ gross financial misconduct rearing its head, fast

MEASURES have lately been taken against five officials of the Masasi Town Council in Mtwara Region for presumed involvement in financial misconduct dating back to the 2020/2021 financial year. The audit exercise upon which disciplinary measures were taken dates back to May last year, in which case-

- it covers the period ending June 2021, but it takes time for such reports to be digested, then forwarded to higher authorities and action being directed in that regard. More often than not action doesn’t actually follow.

At the current sitting of the legislature, Buchosa MP Eric Shigongo at one point demanded when the government will confer or restore powers of district councils to take action on district executive directors when found to be have engaged in financial management misdeeds. The government clarified that it has no intention of conferring such powers but such bodies (councils) can make a request to that effect upon the directors’ appointing authority, viz., and the presidency. The relevant ministry would thus be consulted.

Errors by financial controllers in district councils are of two types, one being individual misconduct; it is basically what is described as fraud, where an officer engages in private gain by illicit payments in acts of procurement, supervision, etc. The other type is collective misdemeanor whereby councilors pressure for certain actions to be taken contrary to directives, through discretionary powers of financial controllers or accounting officers in that case. Councilors’ powers over directors can take this error to huge proportions.

Objections to this comprehension, and hence the rationale for demands that councilors have powers over district executive directors is the shallow view that councilors represent interests of local communities, ignoring the dimension of private interest. It is the same issue that is ignored in demands for a new constitution, that it ignores private interests for instance in relation to the idea of a weak presidency. But if no firm guidance from higher authorities is given, private interests make it a ‘democratic demand,’ soon.

When one looks at the current issue, of measures against council officials towards the end of the past financial year, one realizes that this was within the first 90 days of the transition to the sixth phase presidency. Public officials everywhere appeared to be expecting that the good old days of the third and fourth phase governments – leaving aside the second and first phases as they in the dim past – of using electoral pressure to let things slide in local government finances were being restored. They started to engage in financial malpractices, hoping that things will be debated here and there, and then forgotten.

We are of course happy that this isn’t the situation, and authorities are keen that financial discipline is retained, so projects are finished on the right time at the planned cost framework. But with pressure rising for wider democratic platforms, if those in government start canvassing for support in a really competitive environment, they may drop the guard. Democracy and corruption are often bosom friends.

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