the Auditor General
The prospect of the week-long Avurudu vacation has everyone in holiday
mode. But the business of governance must go on. And the New Year
is a time to take stock as well as to ponder the way forward for
a nation in crisis.
The peace talks are arguably the foremost issue facing the country
and are rooted in all other factors retarding our economic and social
wellbeing. There are several other issues too, like the rising crime
rate that can be co-related to the volatile arms trade in the country,
which are due again to the conflict.
we find a new scandal -- the VAT refunds scandal -- and the CID
probing to see if this too is linked with the issue of terrorism
in the country.
As stories in our news section reveal - the VAT refund discrepancies
were first discovered by the Auditor General (AG) back in June 2005.
At that time, the AG gave his report to the Commissioner-General
of Inland Revenue. The matter had then gone to the Ministry of Finance
which, for some time, has been tainted with more than idle talk
of not being as squeaky clean as it ought to be. Already the Ministry
and the Auditor General are at loggerheads when, in fact, the Ministry
should be thanking the AG for highlighting discrepancies in accounting
procedures in the public sector.
the one hand, the Auditor General has the same status as the Elections
Commissioner or Supreme Court judges; while he is appointed by the
President, he can be removed only by Parliament.
AG is wont to complain that, he is far from independent in administrative
matters; he must report to the Ministry of Finance and his funds
come from the Treasury, i.e. the Ministry of Finance. Therefore
he must be in the good books of that Ministry to function effectively.
The draft National Audit Act prepared during the UNP administration,
when quite a lot of modern laws were drawn up - was alas, not implemented
because Parliament was abruptly dissolved.
National Audit Act (draft) provides the AG with powers to be independent
of the Executive (the Government), and responsible to Parliament
(which with all its faults remains the august house of the people's
It also provides for many more steps that empower the AG to effectively
implement good governance. It allows him the power to impose a surcharge
on persons for irregular transactions, deficiencies, losses etc.,
due to negligence or misconduct.
also allows the AG to issue reports to the media, making such issues
public knowledge. (The VAT scam would have been arrested long ago,
and millions, maybe billions saved had the AG's report been released
to the media instead of gathering dust in the Inland Revenue Dept/Ministry
of Finance). Also Parliament - and not the Finance Ministry -- will
fund the Auditor General's Department (which will be known as the
National Audit Office ).
it is the responsibility of the political parties to implement such
draft legislation. The UNP has a duty to push for these laws because
it was under its stewardship that they were drafted. The JVP, the
watchdogs of public funds in many ways and the ruling parties if
they are for clean government as they always profess to be - must
join hands too.
was another draft law approved by the UNP Cabinet that never saw
the light of day i.e. the Freedom of Information Bill prepared by
the Justice Ministry and the Attorney General with inputs from media
organisations. This kind of law is found in countries where governments
are interested in using the media to expose wrongdoings at an early
stage and gives the public access to public information regarding
to the VAT issue, it is imperative that these investigations which
the CID long dragged their feet on, claiming that the papers were
never given to them by the Government (Inland Revenue Dept/Ministry
of Finance ) are speeded up as a matter of national importance.
tentacles of this scandal seem to go deep - into political funds,
politicians' pockets, acquisition of properties here and siphoning
of these funds abroad. Whether it has even greater ramifications
than what is now known is there to be unearthed.
is not a matter that the CID alone can handle. The Attorney General,
considering protocol in government, should be able to summon/invite
the Auditor General, some honest members of the Inland Revenue Dept.,
who seem to know a lot about who is upto what in that Department,
but are under a kind of Omerta (a secrecy code) to join the CID
in investigating and prosecuting this case.
the scandal did was turn the spotlight on the Auditor General whose
role has long been to audit Government accounts, write a report
and have it tabled in Parliament for everyone to forget. This is
now passe. His office must play a pro-active role so that a few
people do not cream the fat off this land while millions suffer.