Prime Minister clarifies allegation that 20A seeks to reduce powers of Auditor General

Oct 04, 2020 (LBO) – Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa highlights that the 20th Amendment only seeks to replace the changes made to the provisions relating to the Auditor General by the 19th Amendment with the provisions that existed before the 19th Amendment.

Releasing a statement, the Premier stated that one of the claims being made is that the 19th Amendment set up an Audit Commission and that the 20th Amendment seeks to abolish it.

Another claim being made by the opposition is that the 20th Amendment seeks to remove the Presidential Secretariat and the Office of the Prime Minister from the purview of the Auditor General.

“All that the 20th Amendment seeks to do is to replace the changes made to the provisions relating to the Auditor General by the 19th Amendment with the provisions that existed before the 19th Amendment,” Rajapaksa said.

“The opposition has been unhesitatingly uttering every lie that comes to mind with regard to this matter because of the confidence that most people would not be familiar with these obscure provisions of the Constitution. Its our duty to understand the facts of the matter and to defeat the unprincipled attempt being made by the opposition to mislead the people.”

Full statement

The allegation that the 20th Amendment seeks to reduce the powers of the Auditor General

The opposition has been trying to propagate the idea that the Auditor General’s powers would be reduced by the proposed 20th  Amendment. It’s seldom that the Constitutional provisions regarding the Auditor General comes to the attention of the public. This has made it easier for the opposition to propagate various falsehoods in this connection.

One of the false claims being made is that the 19th Amendment set up an Audit Commission and that the 20th Amendment seeks to abolish it. What the 19th Amendment made provision for was not an Audit Commission but only an Audit Service Commission. The Audit Service Commission does not carry out any auditing functions. It handles matters like the appointment, promotion, transfer and disciplinary control of members of the State Audit Service. Usually such matters pertaining to government servants are dealt with by the Public Service Commission. All that the creation of the Audit Service Commission achieved was to set up yet another Commission to do the work that was being done by the Public Service Commission.

Another false claim being made by the opposition is that the 20th Amendment seeks to remove the Presidential Secretariat and the Office of the Prime Minister from the purview of the Auditor General. From the very inception of the 1978 Constitution, the Presidential Secretariat and the Prime Minister’s Office have been under the purview of the Auditor General. The phrase “all departments of government” in Article 154(1) of the pre-19th Amendment Constitution brought the Presidential Secretariat and the Prime Minister’s Office under the purview of the Auditor General. These institutions were always listed as government departments in the Government Financial Regulations. Quite apart from these two institutions, even the Office of Former Presidents is listed as a seperate government department and all these institutions were always audited by the Auditor General.

The inclusion of the Presidential Secretariat and the Office of the Prime Minister by name in Article 154(1), by the 19th Amendment did not achieve anything new. Even though they may have not been specifically mentioned by name, from the very inception of the 1978 Constitution, the Presidential Secretariat and Prime Ministers Office had always been under the purview of the Auditor General. Even after the 20th Amendment reinstates the old article 154(1) which existed from the inception of the 1978 Constitution, in place of the so called ‘changes’ made by the 19th Amendment, the Presidential Secretariat and the Prime Minister’s Office will continue to remain within the purview of the Auditor General. Over the past decades, it’s the Auditor General who audited the Presidential Secretariat and the Prime Minister’s Office and not some private audit firm.

Another falsehood that’s being propagated is that state owned companies will be removed from the purview of the Auditor General by the 20th Amendment. The auditing of state corporations and state owned companies (i.e. companies in which the state owns more than 50% of the shares) comes under Article 154(2) of the Constitution. Under the provisions of Article 154(2), the minister in charge of the subject can assign the auditing of a state corporation or a state owned company to a qualified audit firm. However before doing so, he is mandatorily required to obtain the concurrence of the Finance Minister and also to consult the Auditor General. After the minister in charge of the subject assigns the auditing of a state corporation or a state owned company to an audit firm in this manner, the Auditor General can issue a written notice to that audit firm informing them that he proposes to utilize their services for the performance and discharge of the Auditor-General’s duties in relation to that state corporation or state owned company, and thereupon that audit firm is mandatorily required to act under the direction and control of the Auditor-General.

The content of Article 154(2) which existed from the inception of the 1978 Constitution, was not changed by the 19th Amendment. The content of Article 154(2) will not change under the 20th Amendment either. Therefore it can be said that the content of Article 154(2) has remained the same from the inception of the 1978 Constitution and will continue to remain so in the future as well. Hence the claim that state owned companies are to be taken out of the purview of the Auditor General, is a complete falsehood.  

It is also being claimed by opposition propagandists that the 19th Amendment had stipulated that the Auditor General should be a ‘qualified auditor’ and that when the 20th Amendment reinstates the old pre-19th Amendment Article 153(1) this qualification requirement will be dropped and hence, after the 20th Amendment is passed, even an unqualified person can be appointed as Auditor General. Constitutions are written on the assumption that those reading it will have basic common sense. The Constitution does not state anywhere that the person appointed as Attorney General or as a Supreme Court judge has to be a qualified lawyer. But those appointed as Attorney General, Auditor General or a Supreme Court judge will always have the required educational and professional qualifications without which they cannot function in those positions.

All that the 20th Amendment seeks to do is to replace the changes made to the provisions relating to the Auditor General by the 19th Amendment with the provisions that existed before the 19th Amendment. The opposition has been unhesitatingly uttering every lie that comes to mind with regard to this matter because of the confidence that most people would not be familiar with these obscure provisions of the Constitution. Its our duty to understand the facts of the matter and to defeat the unprincipled attempt being made by the opposition to mislead the people.  

Mahinda Rajapaksa

Prime Minister