Civil Society organisations call on govt not to delay the Audit Act.

Civil Society organisations call on govt not to delay the Audit Act.

Civil Society organisations call on govt not to delay the Audit Act.

Written by Tharushan Fernando

29 Jan, 2017 | 8:04 pm

Civil society organisations are calling on the government not to delay the Audit Act, which was a key pre-election promise of the current government.

Meanwhile, the Joint Trade Unions Collective of the Auditor General’s Department alleges that efforts are being made through the draft of the Audit Bill, to curtail the powers of the Auditor General. During the run up to the Presidential Election, the incumbent government made a promise to establish an Audit Commission, and said that the Audit Bill would be presented to parliament soon.

The Audit Act, which was one of the main promises of the 100-Day Government was set to be presented on February 19, 2015.

In the recent past, civil society activists and certain politicians criticised the delays in presenting the Audit Act to Parliament.

Meanwhile, in a letter addressed to the president, the People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections, or PAFFREL, requests that the National Audit Bill, which was approved by the Attorney General in September 2016, be gazetted, and taken up for debate in parliament.AUDBill

Meanwhile, the  Ceylon Today newspaper reported today that the Audit Bill which was initially intended to be a very strong Bill had been diluted with the removal of key clauses from the original draft. According to the report, the surcharge powers of the Auditor General under which the damage on public property and money could be recovered from Secretaries to the Ministries have been removed from the AG. The report reads further that the draft Bill also includes provisions to fine audit officers for exposing audit information to external parties.

The newspaper also quoted a senior official of the Auditor General’s Department, who said, “The Auditor General’s Department was answerable only to Parliament under the 1978 constitution but the new Audit Bill includes clauses under which the Minister of Finance may work in tandem with the Auditor General thus breaching the independence of the post”.

Speaking to Ceylon Today, Auditor General, Gamini Wijesinghe said that the bill has been directed at the Attorney General and now it is at the Prime Minister’s office.

AG“It has been directed to the Attorney General. He has sent me a copy of the final draft. Now it is in the office of the Prime Minister and I don’t know what happened to it”, he said.

He further expressed that the final draft of the bill is unsatisfactory and has been diluted.

“This is not the Audit Bill we expected. But we cannot proceed without even this”, he said

According to the Auditor General ,the new bill connects the finance minister, however the Auditor General must not answer to a minister.

“A minister must not be connected to this. This must be an independent act”,  he said.

Auditor General’s Department Joint Trade Unions Collective pointed out that the Auditor General is the individual appointed by parliament to enforce the powers conferred by article 154 of the constitution. Exerting pressure on the Auditor General will only serve to harm these constitutional powers of parliament.

“I spoke with His Excellency the President personally on several occasions. He told me personally that the Audit Act will be passed and that he will intervene to have the Audit Act passed. The Audit Bill is currently with the Office of the Prime Minister. As such the Prime Minister must take full responsibility for the continued delay in presenting the Audit Bill. That is our stance”,  said the convener of the AG. Department Joint Trade Union Collective.

The National Movement for a Just Society charged that there are two parties-one group comprising of state officials and the other consisting of politicians, who are against the bill.

According to the National Movement for a Just Society, this bill shows that ‘they’ wish to misappropriate state funds and submissions have been made to the Prime Minister and President on this and it is a prime responsibility of the government to ensure that state funds are not used or misappropriated on the prerogative of the Finance Minister.

The Voice Against Corruption (V.O.A) pointed out that the amended Audit Bill will severely curtail the powers of the Auditor General of the country.

Convener for the V.O.A added that the Finance Minister, who is the subject of serious accusations of theft, fraud and corruption is also preparing to steal the powers of the Auditor General.

“We wish to ask the people of this country and all members of parliament, to stand against this effort to curtail the Auditor General’s powers”, he said.

UPFA Parliamentarian, Jayantha Samaraweera recalled that the Audit Act was to be passed on March 28, 2015 according to the 100 day programme,  and it was said that it would be brought to parliament.

He added that the Audit Bill was drafted and referred to the Legal Draftsman’s Department and the Department said it was suitable. And then it was brought to cabinet where a special sub-committee was appointed where minor amendments were made there and it was referred to cabinet again and it has been put to a sub-committee with Paskaralingam and Charitha Ratwatte, and now efforts are being made to curtail the powers of the Auditor General.

He explained that what is being done here is that the commission has been appointed without the Audit Act being in force and two million rupees is being wasted each month on the rent for the building alone and the wages of the officials a sum of about Rs.3 to 4 million is also being wasted.

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