May 19, 2013 News
The lengthy process involved in scrutinizing Auditor General Reports highlighting Government’s expenditures is being facilitated through the National Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that was designed to be slothful.
This is according to Anand Goolsarran, former Auditor General, who believes that examinations of the Auditor General Reports could be more expeditious if the PAC sets itself an achievable timeline and work together rather than in a confrontational mode.
He stated, “The PAC is designed to facilitate inefficiency because it is a political body. The PAC (comprising three Government and four Opposition members) see Government defending and the Opposition attacking and so they end up in a long drawn out process to resolve the problems highlighted.”
Almost yearly, the Auditor General Reports highlight similar flaws in Government’s accounts such as overpayment to contractors, non-establishment of the Public Procurement Commission, non-clearance of Advances, and lack of maintenance of logbooks among others.
According to Deodat Sharma, Auditor General, Government is implementing recommendations in the annual reports emanating from his office, but with the existing process the results are decidedly slow.
The United States of America 2012 Human Rights Report made reference to the absence of the Public Procurement Commission and the fact that the effectiveness of the Audit Office remains limited since Government may or may not act on the discrepancies noted in its reports.
“Observers noted that recurring discrepancies were repeatedly highlighted in the reports without officials taking appropriate follow-up actions to investigate and resolve the discrepancies,” the report highlighted.
Avoiding direct comment on the US Report, Sharma said that many persons may believe that Government is not acting on the recommendations, but this is not so.
“It might be slow, but there is a process in taking action,” he added.
According to Goolsarran, the PAC is still to complete examining the 2010 Auditor General Report, while the 2011 Auditor General Report was laid in the National Assembly last year September.
The PAC may take another year or two to look at the 2011 report which will take us to 2015.
“Then it will take another year or so for the Treasury Memorandum to be issued. On average you get an official response from Government five years after the discrepancy is noted.
Then when the Treasury Memorandum comes out it is vague, not specific and is overtaken by time. The Treasury Memorandum sets out what action the Government has taken or proposes to take in relation to something that happened five years ago,” the former Auditor General said.
According to Goolsarran, there is no reason why the PAC cannot convene its meetings immediately after the Auditor General has issued his report.
He said that the PAC should give itself one month to complete its examination and issue its own report.
Providing a solution to the slothfulness of the PAC, he said that the National Assembly should pattern the PAC’s operations after that of the United Nations.
He said that in the United Nations, there is the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), an expert body comprising 16 members. It works very expeditiously to complete the examination Board of Auditors’ reports and to issue its own report to the General Assembly.
He noted that the Fifth Committee of the General Assembly takes it up from there, and within a short time, a General Assembly Resolution is passed invariably endorsing the findings and recommendations of the Board as well as those of the ACABQ.
“The resolution has a binding effect on the part of the United Nations. All of this takes place before the next cycle of audit takes place, and the Board of Auditors is required to report periodically to the General Assembly on the status of implementation of its recommendations,” he added.
According to Goolsarran, the Audit Act 2004 provides for the Audit Office to publish the responses of the various government agencies to its findings and recommendations. In most cases, the responses were unsatisfactory and did not address the specific issues raised.
He said that in the haste of meeting the deadline, the Audit Office appears to take a mechanical approach of including the responses in its report without evaluating their appropriateness. Had it done so, there would have been an outright rejection of most of the responses. This is a major contributor to the limitations to the effectiveness of the work of the Audit Office, Goolsarran said.
However, during a recent interview with this publication Sharma said that limitations that could affect the Audit Office are limited funding, inadequate staffing and possible shutting down of the Audit Office.
However, he is pleased that the strength of the Audit Office has increased over the years and finances are available. In addition, the Audit Office is not under any threat of being closed.
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