2009-01-02 07:53:00 Lawyers praise move to beef up CAG powers By Bernard James THE CITIZEN Lawyers in Dar es Salaam yesterday hailed President Jakaya Kikwete on his move to empower the Controller and Auditor General (CAG) to deal directly with instances of embezzlement of public funds. A number of advocates who talked to The Citizen proposed changes of the relevant legislations so that the CAG could be provided with prosecution powers, to give the entity proper mandate to tackle embezzlement of public funds. They argued that if the law setting up the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bureau (PCCB) was changed to enable the agency to deal with the vice, there was no harm to give similar powers to CAG, as his province of work is equally important. They described the new approach as �long overdue," saying it was the most effective and workable approach at this time. It would have been of significant help in the fight against corruption and embezzlement of public funds, which in recent years cost the government billions of shillings, they said. The advocates were reacting to President Kikwete�s New Year address to the nation in which he affirmed intentions to direct the CAG to hand to law organs the names of individuals seen to have misused public funds. Dr Fauz Twaib, President of the Tanganyika Law Society (TLS), said that Tanzania badly needed such an approach to tackle malpractices. He said there was an urgent need to do away with the current system where the CAG discovers misappropriation of the funds but action against the culprits is subjected to administrative hurdles, which mostly ends in inaction. �I think this is a good approach and it has come at the right time. It is a step which has been long overdue,� the leading advocate noted. He was referring to existig arrangements where nothing can ordinarily be done against embezzlers who have cost the nation billions of shillings. �We have all the reason to support this move. Previously, when the CAG carried out an audit and discovered a public servant has stolen money, which is a criminal offence, he could only prepare a report and submit it to the respective authority for discussion. At the end of the day we find nothing has been done," he stated. Dr Fauz said the CAG like other public officers has the legal right and constitutional duty to report criminal acts so that appropriate action is taken. He said such powers would reduce the misuse of public funds and ensure that perpetrators are booked immediately. His views were supported by a University of Dar es Salaam law lecturer, Dr Sengondo Mvungi who said: "What President Kikwete intends to do is to give the Government teeth over the use of its funds." "I fully support the move because billions of shillings which are injected every year for development projects end up vanishing into thin air,� Dr Mvungi said. It has proved difficult to deal with embezzlers through the current arrangement, he said. "We know of individuals who have misused public funds and are walking free because there was never a serious move to book them. District councils use development funds for Uhuru touch rallies. What is this?" asked Dr Mvungi, who is also director of legal affairs for the opposition NCCR-Mageuzi."I for one think that holding accountable embezzlers in that manner is the right move," he affirmed. Citing an example, Dr Mvungi said Parliament had approved nearly Sh842 million for the purchase of pesticides and construction of cattle dips in Tarime district, but today no cattle deep has been erected in the whole district. "Sometimes we turn ourselves into a laughing stock when we beg for budget support from donors while at the same time our district and regional authorities are embezzling funds," he said. Mr Twaha Taslima, another city lawyer, commended the move and said what the president was doing goes in tandem with legal requirements, only that existing laws were not being effectively applied. He was quick to express his pessimism over the revision and enforcement of the presidential directive. "The major problem we are faced with in combating misuse of public funds is about supervision and enforcement of the laws and not non-existence of appropriate legislation. This has been a big problem with us for a long time," the lawyer noted. He said CAG has for many years been issuing reports in Parliament detailing instances of embezzlement of public funds, but they are treated in a cavalier fashion. "What the president should do is to make sure that the CAG does not end up auditing but conducting investigative auditing as well," he suggested. Involving the CAG directly in the fight against corruption would have a significant impact in saving millions of shillings stolen in district councils, the advocate added.