The recent report by the Auditor General office on the Accounts of the Republic of Zambia for the financial year ended 31st December 2016 has raised a lot of dust in the country and abroad to the extent of making headlines in a Chinese tabloid, namely Xinhuanews .

The report has received attention from the Vice President as well as the Minister of finance, with the consensus being that those found wanting should be made accountable. At the same time, a number of individuals have taken to social media condemning the government of increased corruption and why they should be confined to the pits of political history.

To briefly highlight the main issues, here are some figures and statements extracted from the report.

  • Misapplication of funds has increased from K28,153,997 (Approximately $2.8M) in 2015 to K162,095,699 (Approximately $16.2M) in 2016. This is an increase of 475.75%!
  • The Auditor General’s office head of public relations Ellen Muleya Chikale stated that the report which had been submitted to Parliament showed unretired imprest increased from K12,659,892(Approximately $1.2M) in 2015 to K17,559,399 (Approximately $1.7M) in 2016. This is an increase of 38.7%.
  • Unaccounted for revenue increased from K558,499 (Approximately $500,000) in 2015 to K3,700,509 (Approximately $3.7M) in 2016. This is an increase of 562.58%.
  • The report also stated that “Although unvouched expenditure seemed to have reduced from K349,306,160 (Approximately $34.9M) in 2015 to K170,559,399 (Approximately $17.5M) in 2016, it is still the highest ranking irregularity for the period under review and continues to be an area of high concern for the office. The other irregularity that is of high concern to the office is the misappropriation of funds which stands at K3,618,127 (Approximately $361,000) in 2016,”

The above figures are surely concerning if not disheartening for most Zambians, however, before we get consumed in self-pity and the usual corruption stories about the government, it’s important to look at what the numbers tell us, and why despite the number of individuals who publicly state how they hate corruption we have seen very little improvement. Misapplied funds, unretired imprest and unvouched expenditure are figures that implicitly indicate that lower and middle management individuals are also involved.

To begin with, its highly important that we demystify the persona of the government as a single human being who dwells in some unknown place driving Porsche cars, sleeping on bank notes, bathing in milk and probably surrounded by heavy security and high-tech military gear a third world country could only dream about. On numerous occasions when corruption has been reported, many individuals seem to gloss over the fact that a government is made up of hundreds of individuals who are appointed and employed contrary to the perception that an individual named ‘government’ runs all the affairs and is responsible for all the thieving.

The point of interest in this article is the finance and economics explanation of the drivers of corruption in the civil service and indeed in other employment sectors. In 1996, the Zambian government launched the national housing policy, as part of the United Nations ‘enabling shelter strategy’ of 1988. This policy had the goal of ‘providing affordable housing for all income groups. This was the pinnacle of countrywide consultations leading up to a workshop in Lusaka on the 21st and 22nd March 1995.The process was well crafted such that the UN-HABITAT awarded it the ‘scroll of honor’.

This policy came at a time when the construction sector was starting to attract attention and land was becoming a factor, unlike in the 1980’s and very early 1990’s where any household practically allocated themselves a piece of land that they cultivated and everyone respected their privacy and self-declared powers to adjudicate over what piece of land was theirs to till and build on.