“INDEPENDENCE AND THE INTERGIATY OF THE AUDITOR GENERAL”
Posted on July 25th, 2016

Sarath Wijesinghe former Ambassador to UAE and Israel

Independence and the Integrity of the Auditor General

Auditor General is a position constitutionally guaranteed, in Sri Lanka and protected worldwide with wide powers and functions for the protection and continuity with long traditions from 1795 with the appointment of Hon Cicil Smith” as the first Auditor General who set standards initially trickling down smoothly for generations with international support and assimilation of practices and conventions. Her /His salary or perks cannot be reduced during the tenure of the office and the removal is subject to a long and arduous process involving the Legislature to which the Auditor General is responsible to. He/She is responsible for the quality of accounts and financial discipline of the state funds with utmost care acting with no fear or favour in the midst of the politicised and complicated political maize.

Governments, United Nations and the States have pleaded to maintain the integrity and independence of this post with full of respect, integrity, precedents, practices and traditions. It is from the United Kingdom that these traditions and practices have trickled down to Sri Lanka  on the AG and COPE practices as it is known  and followed in the UK from the  comptroller of the Household of the Royalty only second member  of Steward department of the Royal Household.

This position has to ensure the financial stability and discipline worldwide especially in the Commonwealth of Nations where the integrity and Independence is guaranteed by conventions, traditions, precautions and laws common to the group of states. Worldwide in the west and other parts on accountability, supervision of the public accounts and independence of the Office is given top priority unconditionally with no fear or favour.  Mechanisms on accountability are rigorously implemented worldwide with independence to the officers involved and responsible for.

Lima Agreement/Convention on Auditors General

Lima Declaration agreed upon in Malta gives specific guidelines to Commonwealth of Nations which has ratified and reinforced guidance’s of maintenance and independence at SAI (Supreme Auditor Institution) which is celebrated in the CHOCH concluded in 2013 Commonwealth. Articles of the Sri Lankan consultation  ( 154-3, 154-4 and 4b empowers the Office of AG to obtain  technical ,scientific and professional assistance via the secretary of the Minister of Finance which is a worrying procedure unlike in the case of the Election Commissioner who has mandate and power of expenditures without the assistance of the Executive.

In famous Arjun Mahandran’s” controversial episode there was a need to seek expert advice and opinion for the inquiry due to the complexity of the matter for which AG is given a mandate to work with the cooperation of the Finance Ministry also subject to questions and criticism. Head of the Executive and some members have made some threatening and drastic comments on the journalists and also commented on the performance of the post of the Auditor General which is not the accepted common practice in Sri Lanka and worldwide on the officials engaged in this honourable and difficult job based on impartial investigations on corrupt practices of the governance.

Independent scientific and expert reports is a necessity and a prerequisite for inquiries to be conducted independently and the steps taken by the Finance Ministry to conduct such inquiries undermining and by passing Auditor General are worrying issues.

All the Government Ministries and Departments are bound to provide information and forward files to the AG for his/her deliberations including summoning for discussions and meetings The power and teeth for such needs are a grey area which to date is practiced based on  practices and conventions respected and implemented. Steps of nonattendance and mere reporting and if the Executive is not corporative there could be difficult areas in implementation of the duties of the AG’s office. Heads of Commonwealth recognizes the contribution and value for money to ensure the public faith on proper accounting and accountability of the public funds given to the rulers on trust by the citizen in utmost faith. Auditor General is answerable and reporting collectively to the Parliament (legislature) and not to the Executive which has power to invite for discussions the power not generally used based on conventions.

Though theoretically the Parliament, Executive and the COPE has a mandate to invite the Auditor General for questioning and discussions it is generally not the practice following traditions and conventions  out of  respect and keep the institutions in separate compartments for independence. Invitation by the Finance Minister and the Prime Minister for discussions and the remarks of some members of the legislature are worrying factors in terms of the independence as the celebrated legal adage that”  justice should only be done it must seem to be done”.

It is a sorry state that the Auditor General is compelled to go through media interviews to speak on the independence integrity and need of the tools for maintenance of the dignity of the office in supervising and auditing public accounts which may not be palatable to some government servants and members of the legislature in hiding fear and anxiety. Auditor General, his powers and duties and independence are the centre of discussion with the mass scale of financial misappropriations which has come to the attention of the public on members of the Governance and the Officers. It is the duty of the Auditor general to supervise and report the accountability to the Parliament with the independent officers and the facilities by the government machinery.

There should not be an iota of influence, fear, or discouragements on the officials directly or indirectly. It is informed the Auditor General has requested salary increments to the head and the staff in par with the rising cost of living and perks offered to the other positions. Prime Minister has informed that steps will be taken to increase income perks and facilities for the Bribery Commissioner by a Cabinet Paper, while declining a similar request by the Auditor General which is a worrying factor on the integrity and independence of the office in the process of combating bribery and corruption.

Way forward

Powers and duties of the Auditor General is limited to inquire into, report and issue reports/certificates to the Parliament to be used by the COPE and the Legislature which is picked up by the media and the civil society. While  the impact of the reporting process Eco’s length and breadth of the world and the country, with a great impact on prevention of corruption as a ripple effect, attacks on media and undermining the Officials will diminish the strength and confidence of the officers and the citizen due to pressure and statements undermining the independence and impartiality .

Now that the FCID appears to be active in laying the net on the previous regime on Bribery, Corruption and wrongdoings while the current good governance pledged not to continue the previous wrongdoings and fight corruption and bribery to the last word good governance should fulfil the promises made to be good governors. Threat to naming and shaming of the media personnel and establishments in public with the cover of Parliament privileges and strength of political power is unacceptable at any standard and situations which is disastrous dangerous and childish.

Parliament is the great meeting point of the good governance elected by the citizen as Trustees” for a given period based on the promises made during the election campaign against the opponents allegedly full of corruption misdoings and bribery. Basis of Lichchavi” way of good  governance and Yahapalanaya” promised by the current rulers is based on Dasaraja Dharma” preaching tolerance, listening, impartiality, consider citizens children, giving due place for the other views and the jurisprudence full of historical preaching’s and precedents in Sri Lanka and Asia.

Media publicity in naming shaming and identifying media establishments and journalists by the Leader of the Executive and the group is worrying and a direct threat and a pressure on the Media and the impartial government intuitions protected by the citizen media NGOs and Social Network. Office of the Auditor General, Attorney General, COPE, and the government media establishments should be made free and fair not to be the pawns of the government elected by the people for good governance.

The legislature and the Governance appear to be tensed and worried and appear to exert direct and indirect pressure on the Office of the AG so far considered fearless and independent. It is the duty of the citizen and the civil society to protect encourage and exert pressure to the governance to maintain independence and provide required and requested facilities and funds as in the case of the   Election Commission with freedom to utilize funds allocated without the influence of the governments when the Auditor general’s office do not come under any ministry is lacking this privilege.

World Bank, Commonwealth and many international organisations are armed with in the protection of the independence of the Auditor General in the process of accountability of the loans granted and Law and Order of the state and good governance pledged to practice. Currently there are controversies on the tender procedure of expenditures on infra-structure, imports of coal Oil, Coal, Constructions, Industries, and many major such  projects  involving billions of Dollars, Pounds and rupees alleged to be unaccounted for or not properly audited with shady transections.

There are serious of serious episodes including, Bond Affair, Coal Oil issues, and many questionable and shady and questionable transactions subjected to Audit. Obviously those who are responsible will exert pressure from all corners politically and all other means for survival and slip away from responsibility. Physiological attacks and threading of the officers were never heard of but it appears to be haunting following the conduct and speeches and threats of some members of the governance.

It is the duty of the citizen and the civil society currently busy on politics and human rights to chase this immediate and crying need to protect the Office of the Auditor General for the benefit of the Citizen going through a transitional and difficult era. Bribery Corruption and Media in interconnected and linked in the combat of prevention- if not eradication of illegal and shady transections of the politicians and the government servants used to corruption addicted as opium addicts.

The threat to name and threatening Editors is a bad and dangerous precedent. When it is started by the head of the Executive definitely the others will follow suit with more vigour and strength for their own survival. This is not the press freedom practiced in the West advising the governance in Sri Lanka and the Embassies supervising the conduct of the local rulers may not be happy. Though the executive is blaming for partiality of the media all the state printed and electronic media is backing the government with no hesitation leaving no room for the e other views and news. Private media and the editors are under pressure for impartiality.

Private media all over the world including in Sri Lanka is owned by local and international multinational businesses and the government can easily trap them in the government machinery. If the Auditor General’s position is replaced by a theses member committee as discussed in the new changes and legislation, it will be another commission appointed by the political authority in the current set up. Definitely the Auditor is more important and powerful in combating corruption than the ailing Bilbray Commission started with thrashes walks and funfairs fast diminishing strength and vigour fast with inefficiency inactivity and   witch hunts instead of fighting corruption.

If the Commissioner wishes to trap sharks or sprats at any  given time it is a matter of sending some officers to the Immigration,  Motor Traffic, Police, Exchange Control Harbour  Clearance offices and many if not all  public departments or a ministry  engaged in day to day work and mega transections with the public  and private transactions. If the Bribery Commissioner is entitle to more salaries and perks Auditor General who is most effective hundred times more should be given due recognition and promotions.

The head of the Executive has taken steps by a special cabinet paper with the help of the legislature for the salary increase of the Bribery Commissioner with lot of perks; there appear to be is an inequality and something wrong somewhere in the judgement of priorities and necessities of the Auditor General and the Bribery Commissioner.

Therese are worrying matters and issues to be addressed by  the Citizen, NGO’s , Civil Society, and Pressure Groups as it is  most likely the governance will have no time or interest to the  views of  the independent and helpless citizen in fear and suffering with no power and   media backing.  Issue is to be considered completely non-political and as a national need in the eradication of Bribery  Corruption and Poverty  which is interconnected as main causes of poverty , bribery, corruption, inefficiency, nepotism and greed for money and power. Let citizen be peaceful and live in peace without fear under the governance of Dasa Raja Dharma”.

The writer could be reached on [email protected]

 

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