A blink on the Auditor General’s reports costing public funds

By Precious Msosa

As a simple background, the office of the Auditor General was established by the constitution with the mandate to: “audit and report on the public accounts of Malawi, and shall exercise such other powers in relation to the public accounts and the accounts of public authorities and bodies as prescribed by an Act of Parliament, in so far as they are compatible with the principal duties of that office.”

It is also expected of this office to submit reports at least once a year to the National Assembly through the Minister of Finance, not later than the first meeting of the National Assembly after the completion of the report.
It is therefore the obligation of Parliament through Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to scrutinize them and make necessary recommendations which among them are referring matters that smacks of corruption to the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) for possible prosecution.

Kandodo: We inherited a backlog of audit reports

As clearly as highlighted in the status quo, it is therefore unfortunate that PAC is still sitting on the audit reports from 2013 to 20 16, according to a February 2018 report by OXFAM titled ‘analysis of public audit reporting in Malawi.’

“Although the reports for the year ended 30 June 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 have been submitted to Parliament, PAC has only reviewed the Auditor General’s reports for the year ended 30 June 2012. This means reports for the year ended 30 June 2013 to 2016 are not approved by Parliament and no further action can be taken,” the report says.
With such a backlog, the report fears that there is a “strong risk that the Malawi Government audit function may not achieve its intended mandate of safeguarding government’s resources.”

This is vindicated in so many cases where several government institutions have been on record to have abused the taxpayer’s money. For instance, in the 2016 audit of the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, the report says “the audit disclosed weaknesses in financial and internal controls that led to the alleged loss of public resources amounting to K225,175,592.76.”

Such are the lapses that are prevalent in the government system and the bolts can only be tightened if necessary steps are taken. These steps among them may include PAC making timely reviews and recommendations on the suspected ‘fraud’ motives pointed out in audit reports so that the culprits are brought to book. This can only be the best way of sending a strong signal to those squandering public funds.

But with a pile of reports gathering dust at Parliament, is the nature and fundamental principles of national audits which is to have the queries resolved efficiently being achieved?

PAC’s Chairperson Ken Kandondo conceded that the current cohort of the committee inherited a backlog of audit reports which they are however trying to clear as quickly as possible.

“In an ideal situation, PAC ought to be dealing with current issues. Needless to say there are budgetary constraints that restrict the amount of time that PAC can meet in any financial year. That notwithstanding, we are doing our best to clear the backlog,” said Kandondo who at the time of the interview last month his committee was reviewing the 2018 reports.

In addition to the budget limitations that hinder the committee’s regular meetings, the chairperson also disclosed that PAC is also tasked with other investigations as well as auditing local councils.

Kandodo agrees with the OXFAM report that the delays by PAC to attend to the audits are not helpful because they compromise adherence to internal controls.

“Of course regular audits would help to ensure adherence to internal controls. In that regard, such delays are not helpful at all,” he said.
However, the report bemoans lack of capacity among the committee’s members and therefore recommends a deliberate financial and audit competencies in the selection of the members.

“Nevertheless, without limiting the knowledge of the members in audit and financial matters, absence of a strong technical assistance to the committee on financial and audit matters incapacitates the committee’s ability to adequately scrutinize matters before them,” reads part of the recommendations.

But all in all, if the public resources are to be safeguarded, there is need for a strong will from all the responsible stakeholders like PAC, ACB and of course the Treasury.

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