The Public Account Committee, in Parliament, was established by law to follow up on the recommendations of the Audit Service Sierra Leone. Whether the subsequent committees have been complementary in the fight against corruption remains a huge doubt.
In the 2017 report, the Auditor General noted that “the intervention of the PAC in following up on the implementation of the audit recommendations will make a real contribution to enhancing scrutiny of the report of the Auditor-General. It continues to be my fervent hope and belief that with greater collaboration between the executive, parliament and the Auditor-General, we could ensure that those charged with the implementation of programmes and/or projects, adhere to the constitutional and statutory provisions aimed at effective public financial management, enhanced transparency, accountability and good governance. This will ultimately build trust in public officials, institutions and systems responsible for effective financial management.’’
She further noted that, “I have again in this report drawn attention to several instances of non-compliance with financial and other regulations, as well as errors that occurred in the processing of transactions. These instances, though not of a material nature to the financial statements as a whole, are the results of systemic weaknesses that have persisted over time and other breakdowns in internal control. I have provided recommendations which, if implemented, can serve to reduce the incidence of the irregularities and correct the causes of the conditions I have reported on.”
She encourages the PAC to regularly request status reports of these recommendations that are ‘not implemented’ and those that ‘remain in progress.’
The non-adherence to Audit Recommendations by Public Enterprises, Commissions and MDAs bring to question the role of the Public Account Committee whose business is to call into book those individual MDAs who default in various Audit Reports.
Key among the issues normally raised in various Auditor General’s Reports has to do with the failure by MDAs, Local Councils and other public sector organizations to provide supporting documents for the monetary transactions they undertake amounting to billions of leones of tax payers’ monies.
The regular trips to Local Councils, by PAC, in which public hearings are conducted on the operations of Local Councils, have been revealing a number of anomalies relating to corruption and embezzlement of state funds, but this is where it normally stops.
PACs have not been able to make their reports public if ever they are doing any, as it is the case with the Auditor General’s Report on what befalls such rogues who expended government monies and cart away assets without supporting documents and justifications.
The 2017 report have expressed dissatisfaction at the rate of non-compliance to audit recommendations by Government institutions and had called on the PAC to regularly follow up on the status of these recommendations, including those in the process of being implemented as part of their mandate and also submit reports based on the Auditor General’s Report.
Why has the reports of PACs in the past remain in secrecy? Why are the tax payers always kept in suspense with a number of issues PACs have discovered with regards the embezzlement of funds by Local Councils and MDAs? We want to see the reports of the PACs, roping certain individuals or get them to face the ACC to further account for their stewardship.
The PAC’s own accountability process, according to the Auditor General, Mrs. Laura Taylor Pearce, is further strengthened through support by an ASSL technical unit located in Parliament and headed by the AG or her Deputy. The team briefs the Committee at pre-hearings and during hearings. Officials summoned by the Committee are requested to make submissions on the issues raised by the Auditor General.
But, as it is, the issue of auditing state funds has only stopped at the presentation of audit reports to Parliament and the subsequent summoning of defaulters to face the PAC and the process should go beyond that. The Auditor General’s Department, from all indications, has done a marvelous job over the years, but moving it further to follow up on their recommendations has been a serious challenge and for this we hold the PAC to book squarely.
In all of this debate we are not oblivious of the fact that the PAC has got challenges along the way, towards executing their mandate especially so when various AG’s reports normally bring to the fore several issues in different MDAs and other public entities. We wonder whether they have got the manpower and required expertise to bring to book and address all the issues raised in the report. This is another issue.
Until and unless we are able to address these concerns the fight against corruption and the critical challenge of addressing the financial and administrative issues relating to the management of state funds will remain a huge challenge.
It is no secret that one just needs to look at all the various Auditor General’s Reports to point out at corruption and lack of accountability inherent in the management of government and donor funds.
The PAC should play a very complementary role towards the fight against corruption and this will require them to bring to book those MDAs that fail to follow up and address issues raised in subsequent Auditor General’s Reports. If the PAC does not have the manpower and logistical challenges to execute their mandate they should be able to make it very clear. We should stop paying lip service to the issue of getting our institutions to execute their mandate. We need very strong institutions to be able to sustain transparency and accountability in the management of public funds, which remains the underlining factor for poverty and underdevelopment.