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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

More power to the Auditor General

Daily Mirror: 06/03/2007"

Retired AG S. C. Mayadunne speaks out on the inadequacy of this key state department

Retired Auditor General S. C. Mayadunne spoke out on BENCHMARK recently, strongly intimating that the work of his erstwhile department is hamstrung by a lack of resources to do a more-than adequate job.

“To do meaningful work, the Auditor General needs a greater degree of autonomy. That’s what we don’t have. We fail to carry out our duties due to the many constraints that are beyond our control,” he also said on the most recent edition of the widely watched weekly business programme.

The recently retired senior public servant discussed at length the challenges facing the AG’s department. “The AG’s role is to report to parliament, so he should be in a position to examine critical items. But the AG lacks strength in terms of adequate professional and competent manpower,” he unequivocally told BENCHMARK.

Mayadunne also observed that infrastructure facilities as well as the financial independence of the department in question need to be “expanded to a greater extent”. He pointed out that the present resources would enable the AG to “come up with some observations”, but that they would not be the “very important and crucial observations that need to be reported to parliament”, he stressed.

As it transpired on the same edition of the big-picture business programme, the AG’s department has been struggling with this and related issues for some time. “To have a meaningful state audit, the AG must not be so muzzled,” he underlined, emphasising that the AG needs not only “functional independence, but also financial and administrative independence, to run the department in a meaningful manner”.

During Mayadunne’s eventful tenure in office, the audits conducted by his department revealed that waste, mismanagement and putative corruption are rife in the state sector. He was the architect of two major reports tabled in parliament – one with regard to the tsunami and the other in respect of the poor governance vis-a-vis state revenue. He affirmed that although he was constrained not to discuss the details at the present juncture, one could expect a “warm debate” on the facts and figures tabled once the relevant parliamentary committees presented a report in full to the House.

When asked what the Auditor General’s Department does to ensure that when discrepancies in the state sector are detected, they are investigated – and prosecuted, if necessary – Mayadunne conceded that the AG’s Department cannot exercise any judicial action. It can merely report the relevant findings to the legislature or the executive for necessary action, he revealed.
“When such things are reported to parliament, they are redirected to the Parliamentary Oversight Committees,” he disclosed. These two committees include the Committee on Public Enterprise (COPE), which covers the state-owned enterprises; and the Public Accounts Committee, which covers all departments, ministries and local authorities. These committees could then summon the relevant officials and examine the issues raised with the assistance of the Treasury, and the AG could then give the necessary instructions to the executive for remedial measures. They could also report their findings to parliament. “Then, the House will take it up for debate. But so far, very few reports have been discussed. If the debate is taken up, the relevant ministries have to explain why these things went wrong and cite the officers and other parties – it may even be political authorities – responsible,” stated Mayadunne. He noted that the relevant ministries would also have to determine the corrective action to be taken as well as future pre-emptive measures.

During Mayadunne’s tenure as AG, the department also published a report which stated that the Inland Revenue and Customs Departments did not collect a staggering Rs. 389 billion in revenue that was due to the state in 2005. On BENCHMARK, this retired AG said: “This [Rs. 389 billion] is only a sample. Therefore, the total should be more than that sum. Our drafts were sent to the relevant institutions and we got their responses, and revised our observations, after considering their explanations and objections. Therefore, no one can argue about the accuracy and acceptability of the figures,” he emphasised.

Mayadunne also underscored that corruption and malpractices will have “a very adverse impact” on the national economy. “There is a lot of corruption in government transactions. These things will eat up the portions that should go to the general public. Therefore, this will weaken the position of the country and the general public will suffer,” he concluded.

BENCHMARK is compiled and presented by LMD, and produced by ‘the wrap factory’. It airs on TNL every Sunday at noon, with a repeat telecast at 9.05 p.m.

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