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Time to give teeth to chief auditor’s office

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The government has commenced the search for the next Auditor-General following the exit of the pioneer occupant of the expanded office, Mr Edward Ouko, whose term ended this week. A creation of the current Constitution, the Auditor General serves for a single term of eight years and enjoys wide powers and independence. The reason for this is to empower the office to conduct the business of auditing government funds without fear or favour. Underlying that is the determination to entrench accountability in management of public resources.

Looking back over the past eight years, there is remarkable evidence that Mr Ouko gave clout and authority to the office. He created a sense of purpose and urgency in auditing public resources. A major achievement was to clear backlog of unaudited government accounts. In the past, government accounts would run for five years without being audited, such that when the reports eventually came out, they were meaningless for action. Now, government audit is up to date. For example, the latest audit report covers the 2016/17 financial year, which is fairly current.

Notwithstanding this, challenges abound. As Mr Ouko stated in his parting remarks, the greatest drawback is that reports are hardly acted upon. Procedurally, his office submits reports to Parliament or county assemblies for debate and approval because those are the institutions that approve budgets. However, these institutions never take action on the reports.

Every year, the Auditor-General’s Report unearths massive plunder of public resources and makes explicit recommendations on sanctions to be enforced. Parliament and the local assemblies are required to cause actions on those proposals, but that never happens.

Which is the reason Mr Ouko, in his exit opinion, called for review of the law to give powers to the Auditor-General to enforce recommendations of the reports. It is futile to engage in a ritual exercise of auditing government’s books of accounts and exposing cases of massive embezzlement but no action is taken. Precisely, that is what promotes perpetual graft. Perpetrators are emboldened by the knowledge that they are always safe; they can never be penalised for their transgressions. The public is rendered helpless and impotent.

As the search begins for the next occupant of that office, it is incumbent that the public debates and reviews its functions and powers.

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Clear provisions must be made that force action on those adversely mentioned in the Auditor-General’s reports. Auditing public finances should not be an annual ritual without retributions for wrongdoers.

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