Can Mike Ndudzo fill Chiri’s big shoes?

Can Mike Ndudzo fill Chiri’s big shoes?

HARARE, July 27 (The Source) – At a meeting between businesspeople and ministers in 2014, Mike Ndudzo, who has just been appointed new Auditor-General, stood up to rail against Government’s lack of action on corruption.

“We appeal to the President’s Office to deal with corruption, stem it, arrest people and do whatever it takes to restore confidence,” Ndudzo said, drawing loud cheers from the industrialists at the event.

Ndudzo replaces Mildred Chiri, who steps down at the expiry of her term. According to the law, an A-G can only serve for a maximum of two six-year terms. Chiri had been in the post since 2004.

Many had assumed that, like some heads of other state bodies, she had been given a fresh mandate with the new Constitution in 2013, which replaced the post of Comptroller-General she had occupied with that of the Auditor-General.

Clearly, however, many in Government could not wait for her time to end. Even in an administration where being exposed for corruption is never career-threatening, her constant public reminders of high level graft and mismanagement made many people uncomfortable.

The Ndudzo appointment is the latest evidence of Mugabe’s insistence on recycling the same old, old horses that he trusts, regardless of performance.

Ndudzo’s record is dismal. For 26 years, He has been the head of the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC), a vast, loss-making state-owned enterprise with interests spanning from car assembly, fertiliser, mining to textiles. So large is the IDC that, in one interview, Mugabe called Ndudzo “an emperor”.

Ndudzo, a Public Accountant, was the first black Accountant-General after Independence, serving under then Finance Minister, Enos Nkala. Ndudzo served in that position until his appointment to the IDC in 1991.

As Accountant-General, his job was to make sure Government’s accounts were in shape and that public funds were protected. It is a skill that he will now have to recall. The bigger part of his professional life has been spent at IDC, occupied with fire-fighting and trying to save the many corporations under him from collapse.

His record at IDC is far from stellar. The largest businesses he was charged with, among them Willowvale and Zimglass, were once key industries driving the economy. Now they have either gone under judicial management, or gone under completely.

The IDC has made annual losses of over $20 million over recent years and, in a twist of irony given his new job, auditors have issued qualified statements on IDC.

A KPMG audit of IDC’s 2014 accounts found that IDC had not done valuations of its assets since 2012. Liabilities exceeded assets, which, “along with other matters indicates the existence of material uncertainty which may cast significant doubt on the ability of the corporation and its subsidiaries to continue as going concerns”, the auditors said.

As if coming into his new office with a less than impressive management record is not bad enough, he is replacing an A-G who had become something of a superhero.

In a nation starved of genuine heroes, Chiri had won the support of many Zimbabweans by simply doing what she was hired to do; pointing out corruption and the wanton theft of public funds.

Her reports relentlessly laid bare the extent of corruption in the Mugabe administration.

It is a long list of excesses and theft: how the airport road cost was inflated without explanation under then Local Government Minister, Ignatius Chombo; how ICT Minister Supa Mandiwanzira bought cars using funds from parastatals he oversees; how NSSA somehow could not locate $6million worth of its own land; how the bill for the airport runway went up by $13 million without authorisation; $100 million in possible fictitious loan repayments, and many others cases.

Her reports were so detailed we even got to know the classy tastes of the senior officials. At road agency Zinara, officials paid themselves $3,000 for clothing and spent $2,250 month – enough to pay at least five government workers – on entertainment.

Despite operating on a measly budget, it was during her tenure that the annual Auditor General’s reports, which had lagged behind since 2000, became current. Every report since 2014 has been tabled to Parliament by the half year deadline.

Even in a Government where officials no longer feel any shame when exposed for incompetence and theft, Chiri must have caused some discomfort.

Chiri will have racked up a long list of powerful enemies. Many will be happy to see her leave, hoping that Ndudzo, a long-time member of the state gravy train, will just look aside and let things slide.

After such a long stay at a state enterprise, especially one with fingers in so many sectors, Ndudzo’s list of friends in high places must be very long. He will now have to impartially audit them all, and this will test his independence and effect his job.

To his credit, Ndudzo has often spoken against top level graft.

“Being elected to represent people means responsibility and not an opportunity to squander. That is my plea to politicians, future and current,” he said in one 2009 interview.

He has also at times criticised some government economic policies.

In 2014, after facing many frustrations in his attempts to get investors to buy some troubled companies off him, he said the indigenisation law was damaging to investment. Investors, he said, play along and then just break off talks, he moaned.

“After about three months he (investor) just writes a small love letter saying I am sorry we are not going ahead with this transaction,” Ndudzo said.

It is unclear whether those views point to an independent streak that he will need to do his job well. What is clearer is the big task he has in gaining the confidence of the public the way Chiri did.

He will also need to win over a staff that appeared to draw strength from Chiri’s drive. She had a staff of 218 auditors and 40 support personnel. This group continued to produce the goods for little pay, and without ever seeing their hard work being rewarded with action. That they persevered despite all the odds is a testament to Chiri’s management skills and the dedication of her staff.

Internally, she drove her people to add to their professional qualifications; many on her staff were studying disciplines such as ACCA, CPA, CA, CISA, CIMA and CIS.

She had plans to expand the Value for Money and Information Technology units of her office, and also planned to introduce Forensic and Procurement Audit units. She never got the funds, and ultimately the time, to do so. 

She elevated what was some unknown rubber-stamping back office into one of the most revered state institutions. There are few state officials today that do their job and place the interests of their country above those of their political bosses. Chiri was one such servant, a true patriot. 

Ndudzo is therefore stepping into very large shoes, and many will be wondering which Ndudzo will be showing up for work at the A-G’s office; will it be that brave Ndudzo speaking out openly against State-corruption, or the Ndudzo that has been a friend of the establishment for decades?