July 6, 2018 (LBO) – In a recent speech in Parliament the JO’s leading economic voice, Hon. Tharaka Balasuriya MP, offered significant constructive criticism on the National Audit Bill. The bill puts forward an independent audit commission that will have significant authority much like other independent commissions in Sri Lanka such as police, judicial etc. Balasuriya is happy about the legislation, but unhappy about important provisions that he feels have been omitted.
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Some of Balasuriya’s suggestions for improvement of the bill are put forward below:
Prevent Politicisation of Independent Commissions with ‘Garden Period’
Balasuriya suggests a ‘garden period’, which aims to prevent public officials from excising their responsibilities in order to enhance immediate future personal gain or political prospects.
“A garden period will essentially prevent the heads and members of independent commission, … high ranking members of the armed forces and even the police, whereby high ranking officers cannot engage in political activity or seek public office even after retirement for a given period time. This will essentially prevent high ranking officers who have fiduciary rights from excising their influence whilst in office for personal gain after retirement.”
Prearranged Dates for Announcements and Proclamations of Independent Commissions
The JO MP was also critical of remarks made by the Auditor General before the last local government election. He suggests legislation should be in place where these announcements can not be made to coincide with elections.
“Take the case of the present Auditor General, who went on air just before a crucial election which had been postponed by 2½ years, and decided to given his opinion about book keeping during the last government. My contention is not the validity of the statement. Irrespective of the statement’s validity, what needs to be assessed is whether the Auditor General’s statement has an influence or not on the general public, and if there is an influence then such statement at such times should be forbidden by law.”
Financial Independence of AG Department
The Auditor General’s department, which falls under the Ministry of Public Administration, is continuously pleading his case for more resources and manpower. In this regard Balasuriya claims the bill falls short of the intention of making the Auditor General’s department more independent. This is because the bill fails to provide financial independence from the treasury, and fails to provide independence from the Ministry of Public Administration for manpower requirements. Balasuriya said that a parliamentary select committee should oversee and directly debit the consolidated fund for the financial requirement of the Audit Commission.
Audits of Institutions with Government Shareholding
“I would also like to see provisions included in this bill, which will enable not only government subsidiaries with 50% shareholding been audited, but also associate companies with over at least 20% or for that matter any institution with government holding where financial abuse seems to take place.”