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Monday, July 4, 2022

‘Settle audit matters out of court’ -IGR boss calls

By Yusufu S. Bangura

The Executive Director, Institute for Governance Reforms (IGR), Andrew Lavalie has called on the presidency to consider settling the dispute around the Auditor General and one of her deputies out of court.

“This brief intends to draw the attention of stakeholders to the need to look beyond Mrs. Lara Taylor-Pearce (suspended auditor general) and the Sierra Leone Peoples Party government and seek common ground for increasing audit compliance. One step to achieve this is for stakeholders to work towards settling the audit dispute out of court, lower the rhetoric among the parties and promote conversations on audit integrity and uptake of audit recommendations,” he said.

The IGR boss told newsmen at a press conference on Tuesday, 22nd March 2022, at Wilkinson Road told newsmen that the work of the Auditor General is to look at how monies are spent every year at a compliance level.

 He said only 38% audit recommendations were adopted in the last six years, according to research they carried out, thus noting that there was every need for local and international stakeholders to be concerned about the absence of conversations on audit uptake and fiduciary risk in public institutions.

Lavalie said the research titled “Audit Tears:Audit Uptake and Integrity in Sierra Leone-2015-2020” was conducted to ascertain whether MDAs are complying with the Auditor’s General recommendations.

He said there was hardly a country in Africa today where an audit report generates fervor like Sierra Leone.

He said at the time of the Auditor General and her deputy’s suspension, 58% of citizens surveyed in Freetown agreed with the decision while Bo and Makeni disagreed with the government’s decision, which, according to him, would serve as a public threat to financial oversight, hence the popular calls for their reinstatement.

He continued that given the high public interest the tribunal has gathered and the polarising conversations it has generated, Sierra Leone may risk turning an official audit into a partisan discussion and potentially ignore the damages being made to the treasury.

IGR Executive Director said the Public Accounts and Parliamentary Select Committees have the mandate to scrutinise MDAs’ compliance with official audits, but over the years, there have been unhelpful tensions between the Audit Service and Parliament over the publication of the reports.

He said during their research they looked at so many areas in the audit report, but they noticed that over the past 6 years, the auditor general raised 2, 655 recommendations which were produced for all MDAs and local councils for which Parliament approved Le23.84 trillion, but only 38% of those recommendations were implemented.
He added that out of 2, 655 recommendations, 18% were partly implemented, and 44% were not implemented.
He said the best performing Parliamentary oversight committee with respect to audit compliance is the Transport and Aviation Oversight Committee with 60%, Foreign Affairs 46%, followed by Public Works and Assets, and Sports with 45% respectively.

He added that on 22% out the 60 suggestions made for the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education were implemented throughout the period under review. He noted the MBSS didn’t adopt any recommendations in 2017, causing huge backlog of unimplemented recommendations.

He explained that MBSS made a surprise turn in 2020 by implementing 50% of its recommendations.

He observed that the Mines and Minerals ministry implemented 26% of audit recommendations- a sector which had the potential to generate the biggest revenue, were the least compliant with auditors.

“It is really important for citizens to know how the audit recommendations reports are implemented,” he said.

“To improve public financial management oversight, the government should consider institutionalising the tracking of audit compliance by developing a digital tracker for all MDAs to know the progress they are making to address their designated audit recommendations. We note that the ACC is doing a commendable job in recovering cash loss, but more needs to be done to block the systemic leakages cited in annual audits that continue to provide a conducive environment for corruption to occur,” he said.

He advised the government to consider punitive action against public officials who fail or refuse to implement audit recommendations and submit supporting documents in a timely manner.

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