PROTECTOR OF PUBLIC MONEY

Auditor General deserves our support

Many public servants do not like to be audited. If they had a choice, there would be no audits.

In Summary
  • The holder must not fear the Executive and Parliament as the office is independent. A coward, or a yes-person, would erode public trust.
  • Historically, audit backlogs were many years behind, but the situation improved under Ouko.

One of the most thankless jobs in our country is that of the Auditor General. The holder is a friend of the common people but an enemy of many in the ruling class. I can, therefore, only wish Nancy Gathungu, the new Auditor, best wishes. She comes into the office a year after her able predecessor, Edward Ouko, which must be creating many problems as a result.

We deliberately strengthened the office in the current Constitution, Article 229. This was based on our experience of the growing levels of corruption; increasing revenues; and the expected additional work due to devolution. Our intention was to have an officeholder who could protect the common man.

The Auditor’s job is to promote good governance and accountability in the management of our funds. The main focus is on unsupported expenditure, excess spending, pending bills and imprests. He or she also audits the national debt. In more recent times, the AG pays more attention to expenditure and provides performance audits where he or she tries to establish if Kenyans got benefits from the funds utilised. This is an important aspect of the job, especially given the high levels of corruption these days, and gives his or her opinion at the end of the audit.

All audits of national government institutions, and the counties’, should be concluded within six months of the end of the financial year. On receiving the reports, Parliament and county assemblies should debate and take appropriate action within three months. The AG follows up later to confirm that the recommendations have been acted upon.

Many public servants do not like to be audited. If they had a choice, there would be no audits. It is no wonder that they will do everything they can to delay the process. That is why tight deadlines were introduced. Historically, audit backlogs were many years behind, but the situation improved under Ouko.

Previously, Parliament would discuss reports with new officers, as the ones who mismanaged funds had in most cases already left. What was the purpose of discussing reports that were over five years old when all that Parliament could do was to simply complain?

We further hoped that the Executive and Parliament would treat the AG as a partner in protecting public funds and not as an enemy as had been and continues to be the case. We made the assumption that all public servants would want to protect the country’s funds.

An analysis of some audits show that many budget items were qualified with some even having adverse opinions. In most cases, the worst audit reports are over the use of government funds. The audits of donor funds fair a little better, although there are cases of poor use of donor funds too. Since these problems are encountered every year, one wonders if it is not done deliberately by the accountants to facilitate theft.

The AG has found many instances of inflated procurement bills; short cuts in procurement processes and overspending without appropriate approvals. In times of crisis, such as we are going through with Covid-19, there is always evidence of outright mismanagement of public funds.

We must, therefore, strengthen this office if corruption is to be restrained. That is why we gave the holder a long contract of eight years. We hoped that the holder would be bold and perform his or her functions without fear as sacking them was not going to be easy. That is also why he or she is nominated by the President and confirmed by Parliament on behalf of “we the people”. We look up to the AG to protect our funds.

The office must be well funded to recruit the best, and incorruptible, professionals. It must be able to react to situations early enough, before things get out of control. If KRA is allowed to have intelligence officers, so should this office. In addition, the holder must not fear the Executive and Parliament as the office is independent. A coward, or a yes-person, would erode public trust.

We further hoped that the Executive and Parliament would treat the AG as a partner in protecting public funds and not as an enemy as had been and continues to be the case. We made the assumption that all public servants would want to protect the country’s funds.

A professional analysis of the 2013-2016 audit reports by the Institute of Economic Affairs found that public money is being stolen in large amounts. We urge the new Auditor to protect our funds with courage, knowing that she will get public trust, admiration and support. This will directly lead to more funds being available for development.