Jul 22, 2016 News
By Kiana Wilburg
Auditor General (AG), Deodat Sharma is extremely pleased that the Finance Ministry has taken the
initiative to ensure all budgetary agencies implement his recommendations. He insists, however, that such transparency and accountability measures must be taken a step further.
In an exclusive interview, Sharma said that in his annual reports he would often speak to the alarming number of instances of overpayments to contractors by officials within budgetary agencies. He said that in many cases, his recommendations for this to be corrected never saw a second glance, much less serious action.
With a new Finance Secretary (FS), Hector Butts, in place, the AG hopes that the FS will make use of the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act, which provides the power for officials found to be complicit in the overpayments, to be surcharged. He said that the law also provides for a fine and carries a term of imprisonment for anyone who engages in such acts that lead to the state being cheated of its resources.
The FMA Act specifically states, “An official who falsifies any account, statement, receipt or other record issued or kept for the purposes of this Act, the Regulations, the Finance Circulars or any other instrument made under this Act; conspires or colludes with any other person to defraud the State or make opportunity for any person to defraud the State; or knowingly permits any other person to contravene any provision of this Act, is guilty of an indictable offence and liable on conviction to a fine of two million dollars and to imprisonment for three years.”
The Auditor General said that while the previous Financial Secretary never made use of this part of the Act, he hopes that the incumbent will rise to the occasion and demonstrate “a much more no-nonsense approach.”
“This is something that must be implemented so that officials who try to defraud the state can understand that their actions would no longer be tolerated. They must face the full extent of the law. It is a new time and it is a new season,” Sharma emphasised
He said that in the meantime, meetings have since been held with the Financial Secretary and accounting officers in an effort to discuss prior year matters and moving forward.
“I am just really happy that the Finance Minister, Winston Jordan, and his Ministry are taking a stand on this matter, because in the past it was frustrating…I hope the new FS decides that he will take stronger action where matters of overpayment are concerned. But when it comes to implementing the recommendations in my reports, it is a good sign for the nation and a step in the right direction in improving transparency. If they don’t clear up those matters I have been talking about for years, then the same nonsense will continue to be repeated,” the Auditor General posited.
The Finance Minister had said that there was no follow-up mechanism after the Auditor General’s annual report is issued. He said that it is only when the next cycle of audit commences that recommendations are followed up.
Jordan believes that timely follow-up on the recommendations is an established practice and provides for greater effectiveness of the work of the Office of the Auditor General. He said that it also enhances accountability.
Jordan said that all budget agencies will be required to submit to the Auditor General, on a quarterly basis via the Ministry of Finance, the status of implementation of recommendations.
He said that the Auditor General’s staff can carry out on-site visits to verify implementation as well. He said, too, that the Auditor General’s Office can intensify efforts to conduct performance audits of selected agencies and report the results to the National Assembly.
The Finance Minister stated that at least four such audits will be carried out by December 2016. He said that the Auditor General’s Office should also intensify efforts to bring the audits of public enterprises and statutory bodies up-to-date. Additionally, the economist noted that all audits will be brought up-to-date by December 2016 based on financial statements received.
For years, Auditor General Sharma would scrutinize the accounts of various budget agencies and often make recommendations on how they can correct various forms of financial irregularities that he may find. But the inaction by various Ministries, Departments and Regions would push Sharma to even make a recommendation for his advice to be acted on.
In fact, in his latest report, the AG reminded that 318 recommendations were made in his 2013 Audit Report. He said that a review was done on recommendation to determine what action, if any, was taken by the respective Accounting Officers. At the time of reporting, Sharma said that 76 (24%) of the 318 recommendations were implemented, and 77 (24%) partially implemented, while the remaining 165 (52%) were not implemented.
The AG said, “Overall, I am concerned with the lack of action towards the implementation of these recommendations… In addition, in many instances, recommendations are repeated each year without appropriate action, and as a result, weaknesses and issues which impact negatively on Government’s governance and accountability mechanisms continue to occur.”
Now, with the help of the Finance Ministry, he hopes that he would no longer complain in vain.
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