Aug 20, Colombo: Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) says it regrets reports that cabinet ministers are planning to curtail the powers of the proposed Auditor General to delegate under the National Audit Act.
TISL expressed concern that the cabinet of ministers' plans to curtail the proposed powers of the Auditor General would limit the Auditor General's ability to hold individuals personally liable for losses caused to state entities.
The anti-corruption organization requested the government to, in keeping with international best practices maintain the powers vested with the Auditor General while being mindful of the opportunity to further detail the surcharge and appeals process at the committee stage of Parliament.
The TISL made this request in a response to a media report that the cabinet postponed again the issuance of the approval for the implementation of the National Audit Act, stating that the Auditor General will have unlimited powers under the act.
Transparency International Sri Lanka pointed out that National Audit Act approved by the Attorney General includes three very important issues.
The first is the power of the Auditor General to impose personal financial responsibility or surcharges on individuals who have caused financial loss to a state entity through fraud, direct willful negligence, misappropriation or corruption.
The second is the power to examine bank accounts in which the Auditor General believes that monies belonging to a state entity have been fraudulently, irregularly or wrongfully deposited; and third an independent budgeting mechanism designed to safeguard the independence of the prospective National Audit Office.
The third is an independent budgeting mechanism designed to safeguard the independence of the prospective National Audit Office.
"In light of these three provisions the draft National Audit Bill incorporates, to varying degrees, the venerated guidelines on public auditing: the Lima Guidelines. Most notably the powers of investigation and enforcement of audit findings, and financial independence of Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs) have been recognized. The principle on enforcement recognizes that SAIís could be empowered to issue legally valid and enforceable judgments (e.g. powers of surcharge)," the statement said.
TISL Executive Director Asoka Obeysekera said that whilst surcharging powers should be retained, it would be prudent to ensure that the law specifies ever clearer processes for the imposition of a surcharge. "At the same time, the appeal procedure needs to be unbiased and devoid of any appearance of conflict of interest for the Auditor General. TISL believes that the current Bill raises issues in these two matters, which can be remedied and strengthened at the committee stage of Parliament."
After the present government came to power in 2015, the bill was produced in the cabinet in April that year but taking a decision on the bill has been postponed many times.
As a key pledge of President Maithripala Sirisenaís 100 day manifesto, the passage of the National Audit Bill is essential to strengthen financial accountability across the state structure, TISL said.
TISL called on the Cabinet to display its commitment to fighting corruption and enhancing the scrutiny of public finance by tabling the National Audit Bill before Parliament.