Auditor General Gamini Wijesinghe appealed to the Government to end the waiting game and gazette the long awaited National Audit Bill, observing that the inordinate delay in passing the legislation has hampered work of the Department.
The AG yesterday convened a press conference at the Government Information Department along with former Auditor General Sarath Chandra Mayadunne and senior officials of AG Department to explain the current status of the Bill and its provision on surcharges.
“The latest draft of the Bill has tied all loose ends and got the Attorney General’s clearance. Yet the Government is bidding more time. The legislation has already been revised for 22 times. We have been unable to introduce a service constitution and give regular promotions due to this delay. The approved cadre of AG department has 15 deputy AGs, but today we have only one. I urge the Government to Gazette the draft Bill.
If the Government wishes to do more amendments those can be made when Parliament takes up the Bill,” the Auditor General stressed.
Commenting on powers for surcharge, the Auditor General explained that it is not a “punishment” on a public servant. “It is either a recovery of an amount overpaid to a public servant, or a recoupment of any loss caused to Government for which he is held responsible,” he noted.
He pointed out as per the latest draft three conditions must be met in order to impose a surcharge. Those are, “carrying out a transaction contrary to any law, causing a deficit or a loss to the auditee institution by a fraud, negligence, misappropriation or corruption and availability of adequate reasonable grounds with the Auditor General to confirm the above matters”.
Wijesinghe clarified that the AG is only issuing a certificate and upon that the Chief Accounting Officer (Ministry Secretaries) has to impose a surcharge on the relevant officer. “If the CAO failed to act on it within a month legal action could be taken against him,” he added.
He stated that several CAOs have reportedly objected to the surcharge provision. “When we study the instances of loss incurred by the Government over the past two to three decades, the CAOs had also been implicated in them somewhere in the process. Therefore the CAOs are reluctant to issue surcharge though they already have the power to do so,” the AG pointed out.
He pointed out the Audit Service Commission, which was appointed following the passage of 19th Amendment to the Constitution, is inactive for two long years due to absence of legal provisions. “However, we are spending large sum of money for the salaries and maintenance of the office,” he added.
Former AG Mayadunne stated that only the officers who deliberately contravene the law objects to this bill. “The officers without competency often tend to do anything to appease the politicians in order to get promotions and other perks. Surcharge is a hindrance for that practice,” he noted.
He pointed out the proposed bill strengthens state finance control of Parliament and therefore Parliament and people at large should come forward to push this legislation through. He noted the Cabinet has no moral right to intervene into this legislation.