World Bank (WB) US$ 100M loan facility in jeopardy
Posted on June 24th, 2017

By Niranjala Ariyawansha Courtesy Ceylon Today

The World Bank (WB) has warned the government that the US$ 100 million loan facility in the pipeline for release in September will be suspended unless the Audit Bill is tabled without further delay in Parliament and approved by it.

Well-informed sources told this paper that this had come up at talks between officials of the World Bank, Finance Ministry and officials of the Auditor General’s Department on 16 June.

However, an adviser to the Cabinet Committee on Economic Management (CCEM) and a top official of the Finance Ministry who had attended the talks had been of the view that the Audit Bill could never get Parliament’s approval.

World Bank officials had expressed deep displeasure on hearing this remark, the source said.

However, the CCEM adviser had stressed that it was difficult to get the Bill passed by the legislature because ‘a top man in the government’ is also opposed to it.

A Finance Ministry official had pointed out that he was against its ratification as most of the ministry secretaries were opposed to the Surcharges Powers included in the Audit Bill.

The Auditor General’s Department source who participated in the discussion had emphasized that the Bill has to be passed by Parliament at any cost.

The World Bank officials who had supported his stance had stated that if they are to make the US$ 100 million loan facility available to Sri Lanka in September, then the Government has no other alternative but to persuade parliament to approve the Bill.

The World Bank officials are now planning to meet Auditor General Gamini Wijesinghe this week to further discuss the issue.

The Audit Bill will have to pass into law if Sri Lanka is to receive this loan facility from the World Bank. The discussion had focused on the conditions that Sri Lanka has to fulfill ahead of receiving the said loan facility.

It is also learnt that in these circumstances the Auditor General has decided to inform the President in writing, about resistance from top authorities to the Audit Bill.

The AG has informed the Speaker concerning the matter with the latter too being in agreement that the Bill has to be ratified forthwith.

A Government source said that the Speaker had informed the AG that the government was duty bound to fulfill the plethora of promises it had given to the public at the last election.

Though the Audit Bill was to be tabled in Parliament in December 2015 it had been put off until March 2016.

Opposition to the Bill has emerged from Ministers and MPs who resent some significant powers of the AG being vested in a Commission or similar body.Cabinet has directed the Draft Audit Bill to a Cabinet Subcommittee chaired by Minister Dr. Sarath Amunugama asking that the clause vesting the AG’s surcharges powers in a Commission be instead retained by the AG.

All trade unions of the AGs Department protested against the removal of the surcharge powers from the AG.

Meanwhile, President Sirisena has said at the G-7 Summit on 27 May that the Audit Bill will be approved by Parliament without any delay.

Against a backdrop in which the Government’s fiscal management is being critically challenged, the Auditor General’s Department and civil society representatives have urged the government often to have the Audit Bill immediately approved.

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