Lifestyle audits are an important tool in fighting corruption. However, rich dividends can be realised if audits are conducted across the board.
Last weekend, police appealed for leads in their ongoing lifestyle audits on officers, whose spending patterns are at variance with their known earnings.
An audit assists in determining whether workers’ lifestyles can be reconciled with their known incomes. It is also useful in holding those benefiting unfairly from State resources and procurement opportunities.
The problem with the current police lifestyle audit, however, is that this has been underway since 2017 and it is difficult to quantify its immediate or mid-term achievements.
According to the police, officers who have been investigated were able to explain the difference between their incomes and their lifestyles.
Officers who were investigated for acquiring houses, kombis and vehicles had indicated that these were bought from proceeds of their participation in United Nations (UN) peace-keeping missions.
Some of the officers reportedly indicted that they were beneficiaries of the land reform programme and were utilising their farms, hence the difference between their lifestyles and their official salaries.
Zimbabweans on UN peace-keeping missions can be on year-long assignments, enabling them to make sacrifices and save during that period.
Not all officers apparently living beyond their incomes have been on UN missions or are beneficiaries of the land reform programme.
There must have been notable successes scored that are worth documenting in the anti-corruption drive during the three years since the launch of the audit, otherwise the exercise runs the risk of being dismissed as a cynical undertaking to hoodwink Zimbabweans.
What fuels the scepticism is the knowledge that during the last days of the First Republic, police officers were notoriously known to mount roadblocks, whose sole aim was to extort money from members of the public but in particular from commuter omnibuses.
Reports of parallel receipt books for fines and of officers being given daily “fundraising targets” by their superiors had become rife.
Public disaffection and anger at the police was manifested in the embarrassment of former Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri at the National Sports Stadium on November 24, 2017 during President Mnangagwa’s inauguration.
While the police lifestyle audit is an important step, there however, ought to be a single team conducting the audits.
It could consider officers at the Zimbabwe Revenue, the Immigration Department, the Passport Office, Prisons, Members of Parliament, all state-owned enterprises and parastatals, hospitals and clinics and private sector companies.
There is also a greater probability of corruption taking place at the interface between the private and public sectors.
The audit team could comprise experts from the Public Service, the Auditor-General’s Office, the Special Anti-Corruption Unit in the Office of the President and Cabinet, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), the Financial Intelligence Unit and the Police Anti-Corruption Unit, among others.
They could feed their findings into the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) or they could operate independently, whichever works smoothly and produces rapid results, although this could result in duplication.
But they would play a critical role in developing guidelines for verifying fixed and movable assets, undeclared assets, credit searches and criminal record searches as part of the lifestyle audits.
The team could invest some of its time in investigating the perennial congestion at Beitbridge and Chirundu border posts, the birth certificate, the Passport Office as well as the conduct of officials at urban and rural local authorities.
The reason for the apparent congestion is because some of the delays are deliberately intentional and are tailored to extract inducements from members of the public to have their applications fast-tracked.
Launching a nation-wide lifestyle audit would therefore eliminate the proliferation of isolated initiatives whose pace has brought into question the sincerity of current efforts to fight corruption in the country.