19 August, 2017

Why Fuzz About Giving Teeth To The Auditor General?

By Shyamon Jayasinghe –

Shyamon Jayasinghe

“The struggle between the greedy political executive and the law is perennial and irrepressible. If yahapalanaya is to be re-established it is crucial that we legally create a strong and independent AG with powers of disallowance and surcharge.”

Whither Audit Bill?

We are informed by the media that Cabinet has deferred the new Audit Bill for the 24th time. Apparently, the bone of contention is the proposed powers to disallowance and surcharge. All Westminster-style jurisdictions do give firm independent powers to the Auditor General (AG) leaving the latter to perform effectively as the nation’s financial watchdog as far as disbursements out of the public treasury (Consolidated Fund) are concerned. AG is legally invested with the power to disallow and surcharge in all such cases.

When, as youngsters, we joined the Sri Lanka Administrative Service (1963) we were scared of the AG and were kept on our toes. Our supervising Ministers, in turn, were aware that we could be surcharged for any losses to public property or funds, which were our direct responsibility to look after. This, made it hard for Ministers to order us to do wrong. It was yahapalanaya then.

Since the mid-sixties and after 1972 (when the PSC was debilitated) in particular, the old discipline gradually withered; accelerated its decline over the last ten years; and is now virtually dead.We have seen public servants rob the public treasury along with Ministers and other political executives. Typically, when a Minister gets office he first looks around and surveys his officially- given privileges and the potential for making money on the bend. He attempts to create a nexus among his Ministry Secretary and the private staff. The bad Ministry Secretary will give in and the honest one will have trouble from day one.

Power of Surcharge and A Case from Ghana

With a needed cynicism one can discern why MPs of both the UNP and SLFP have protested about the “inordinate power of surcharge,”  to be granted  to the AG. This will, like during our time, restrict politicians’ theft. Public Servants will, more likely, refuse to accede to the political demands because they would get into hot water. Disbursement of government vehicles was a big sore point during the end of my career. One Minister was very  concerned about  ensuring that his family members were permitted to use government vehicles at will.It had been an uphill task for me to ward off the Minister’s advances! Things have gotten worse ever since that and by that relative comparison mine was minor.

There was an inspiring incident from Ghana recently where citizens, who were dismayed by the politicisation of the AG office banded together in an “Ocupy AG,” campaign. The campaigners filed action in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court granted all the reliefs sought by the pressure group, Occupy Ghana, in respect of the Auditor-General’s powers of disallowance and surcharges. The Court declared that AG must issue disallowance and surcharges in respect of all state monies found to have been expended contrary to law.The second relief granted by the Court is that the Auditor-General must take steps to recover all amounts lost to the state, and this covers private persons. The Attorney-General has also been ordered to ensure enforcement of the orders including criminal prosecution where necessary.

This is a classic case of the success of civil organisation pressure and I quote this as a model for my fellow-countrymen to follow.

Revved-up AG

It was no secret that under the previous regime the AG had virtually come under the President. Our government then went low by even Ghana standards. On the contrary, with the Ravi Karunanayake episode one happily observes a revved-up AG. There isn’t any doubt that the new government’s official acceptance of checks and balances and good governance have already brought outcomes. I enjoyed reading the grilling of Minster Ravi, when he came before the Commission, by Dappula De Livera of the AG’s Department. That is a new classic. It looked almost surreal and one could observe how the Minister felt a sense of having being pricked on a self-pride injected to politicians in a UPFA culture. Dear reader, please observe and enjoy yourself the penetrative and invasive nature of the questioning:

Q: Did your wife visit the premises before you rented it.

A: I was told that she did

Q: She went there alone?

A: I don’t know.

Q: Did she tell you that she met Arjun Aloysius in the premises

A: No

Q: She did not tell you that Mr Aloysius came in and discussed matters with Miss (Anika) Wijesuriya in the presence of your wife.

A: No. All I know is that Miss Wijesuriya was the former girlfriend of Arjun Aloysius.

Q: Miss Wijesuriya said that when your wife visited, she called Mr Aloysius and he visited the place.

A: I don’t know that. I am only privy to what my family has told me.

Q: Are you aware of the existence of the company Walt & Row?

A: No

Q: Do you know that Arjun Aloysius and his father are directors of this company?

A: They are directors of many companies. That’s all I know. I do not know who is owning what.

Q: You did not know that this apartment was leased by Walt & Row from Miss Wijesuriya?

A: No. I need not know.

I also enjoyed reading ASG Yasantha Kodagoda’s rebuttal of Minister Ravi, when the latter inadvisably accused the AG’s department of a ‘conspiracy.’ How could the AG get information off 8000 odd pages in so short a time? Ravi queried. The ASG reminded Ravi of the use of search engines and suggestively marked the former as being ‘illiterate.” That was another masterpiece of the yahapalanaya revolution.

New Spirit Not Enough

On the other hand, the new and more congenial spirit and soft environment won’t be adequate in the long run. The struggle between the greedy political executive and the law is perennial and irrepressible. If yahapalanaya is to be re-established it is crucial that we legally create a strong and independent AG with powers of disallowance and surcharge. Such AG must be accountable only to Parliament and dismissible only by a two-thirds majority of Parliament in a vote of impeachment. He should be protected by the invasion of executives. One cannot make an effective watchdog of the AG unless he is legally endowed  with real independence to investigate, to expose, and to recover losses. In to  order to make his independence real the AG must, concurrently, be well remunerated above the Public service norm and he should be disallowed from seeking Public Service appointments after retirement. His staff should be an elite one -also well paid, professional, and well remunerated.

*The writer can be contacted at sjturaus@optusnet.com.au

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Latest comments

  • 5
    1

    I have concerns about the type of candidates who could be appointed as the Auditor General. You need professional scepticism and judgment to be a good auditor and unfortunately the current system allows candidates without proper experience and qualifications to be the AG.

    Even now, the current AG is not a professional auditor but a 20 years tax assessor from Inland Revenue Tax dept hailing from Polonnaruwa.

    Hence too much power in an individual who is not the right candidate could be disastrous!!

  • 7
    2

    To Jagath Fernando. As I have envisaged, it would not be difficult to find a suitable candidate because the remuneration will be very high. Besides, I also envisage that there should be a professional team to assist him.However, if one argues that one should not give teeth to an AG on the grounds that one cannot find a suitable incumbent for the position then, on the same logic, one should not have an AG at all. There isn’t any point appointing an AG without powers.

  • 2
    0

    Once upon a time there was government in the land Called Sinhale Wild Life Sanctuary. It stood for War for Peace. The resultant was a 17th amendment and 5 independent commissions. The resultant of that is sale of Hangbangtota Port to China by those who promised to take back the sales of Colombo Pong Cing.

    When this Yahapalanaya goes down, the Old SLFP may come back even with 3/4 majority to bring back 18A. Is there a way to appoint an Auditor General over the Sinhala Mahajan who wanders around for a sip of arrack and parcel of Biriyani? Then you don’t a special privileged AG.

    Black is black. Calling one back Kettle and other pot doesn’t improve the situation. The only way out for is educating the Arrack & Biryani seeking Mahajan of democratic process.

  • 3
    1

    I think you have to educate your buddy Ranil and also stop licking his back side now..

  • 1
    1

    Shayamon Jayasinghe: Ranil came saying he would govern with Dasa Raja dharma in the Lichchavi Malla Style kingdom, would create 10 million jobs. investigate all the all te corruptions of Rajapakse govt. would bring legislation to estblish FCID and he brought a gigantic economic prooposal showed like Sri lanka going to be the economic, intellectual, technoligcl and every hub for the asia.—————-BNow see what is happening. Within the first 100 days and as soon as the horapalana govt cme, Ranil robbed the Central bank twice. first implicated are Ranil (UNP party leader and prime minister, Galleon Ravi (deputy leader of UNP and the finance minister). His money laundering with Raja rajarathnam was thrown away because of technicality. Judge retied soon after. Everybody say, Gallon-Ravi was acquitted. How come. Now, Ranil knows he is in trouble.He got this 40 years in politics and He is having a photography exhibiton of 40 years what for. for the 40 years he is the party leader for 23 years, and lost 29 elections. anyway, he is using public money in this fo yyears in politics to promote himself.These days, he is promoting in Mahanuwara. Other UNP MPs also scold Rajapakse, and not even the Jackal Opposition, because, they may have to join JO in case, and they are not talking about anything why UNP are so corrupt, MPs steal from everyside, and they do not have any results to show. except the Hambanthota which Rajapakse built. except the port city which rajapskes built and now mattala they want to sell it to an indian company. Why they don’t talk about how many car permits were sold by UNP ministers. Why every UNP minister is stealng from every side. Anyway, Ranil Wickramasinghe Shyamon Jayasinghe’s hero.

  • 2
    0

    Shyamon Jayasinghe: “Why Fuzz About Giving Teeth To The Auditor General?”
    The teeth are there but they are NOT using them to bite. Suddenly the tongue inside pops out to lick.
    Surely this was recently demonstrated by the IGP (Yes Sir, Yes Sir saga) and the minister said “Good boy”
    Shyamon talks of early sixties experience “…………..Our supervising Ministers, in turn, were aware that we could be surcharged for any losses to public property or funds, which were our direct responsibility to look after. This, made it hard for Ministers to order us to do wrong………”
    Note the adjective “supervising”. The present set of minsters are Neros.

  • 0
    1

    “AG Must Be Accountable only to Parliament”……..Didn’t these Yahapalalna Advisors check all these “must do things” before they helped to hoist Dr Ranil and Maithri Sira in to Kotte?…….Wasn’t Dr Ranil’s first Yahapalana anti Corruption measure was to clear his mate Dr Mahendran after the mate ” fixed ” the First Yhapalana Bonds ?…………..

  • 2
    2

    Writer has written with his vast experience in government service. A very good article it is. Hope the government will open its eyes. A strong AG is a MUST for good government

  • 0
    1

    Shyamon has at last got a taste of yahapalanaya?

  • 1
    0

    I’m a layman. I tend to agree with Jagath Fernando on giving more power to AG. My reasons are slightly different from JF.
    The highly likely scenario is going to be MR regime is going to come back to power soon.Wijeyadasa Rajapakse is playing the pivotal role in brining back MR regime to power.
    So even if the current AG or a new AG comes in, however honest he or she may be, they can not control the Raja Dracculas. The AG will become one of them and suck the state wealth.

    Shyamon may have read the Ravi K ‘s horroscope accurately but can not do that to Wijeyadasa Rajapakse’s. WR will ride on the 3rd wave of Rajas’ power.

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