The passage of the National Audit Act in July marked a significant watershed for the public service in Sri Lanka, introducing a legal framework to promote fiscal accountability amongst those serving in the public sector.
However, Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) wishes to reiterate that as with the Right to Information Act which preceded it, implementation from the early stages of the roll out of the National Audit Act is crucial towards ensuring that the stated objectives of the law are met.
Whilst recognising the fact that the Audit Service Commission (ASC) has been in operation for almost two months, TISL highlighted to the public the extent of the power vested in the Commission through the National Audit Act.
The Act empowers the ASC to report the amount of loss or deficiency in a transaction to the Chief Accounting Officer where the ASC has reasonable grounds to believe that transaction has been made contrary to law and that the loss resulted from fraud, negligence, misappropriation or corruption.
Upon receiving the report of the ASC, the Chief Accounting Officer is obliged to impose a surcharge on the public official.
TISL Executive Director Asoka Obeyesekere highlighted that “the chief accounting officer retains the discretion to consider mitigating circumstances and reduce the surcharge. The use, and potential abuse, of this power will require close monitoring”.
Prior to the adoption of the Act, TISL compiled a legislative brief on this crucial legislation, through which TISL sought the strengthening of the surcharge appeals process, the strengthening of the investigative powers of the Auditor General, improving transparency in decision making under surcharging powers and the protection of the fundamental right to information as recognized in the constitution.
The legislative brief was shared with all 225 members of parliament and the recommended amendments were debated extensively in the house, with a few committee stage amendments being incorporated.
Obeyesekere added, “Providing the necessary financial and material resources for the Commission to execute its duties and functions is of the utmost importance at this juncture. TISL encourages all stakeholders to continue to advocate for fiscal accountability in the public sector, especially in light of the upcoming 2019 Budget”. (Colombo Gazette)