NEWS

Attack On Auditor-General’s Report ‘Legally Flawed’

ANALYSIS: The National Federation Party leader Biman Prasad’s view that the newly appointed Auditor-General Ajay Nand should have tabled 2015 audited reports by now is, unsurprisingly, legally flawed. His interpretation
11 Mar 2017 14:08
Attack On Auditor-General’s Report ‘Legally Flawed’
Auditor-General Ajay Nand

ANALYSIS: The National Federation Party leader Biman Prasad’s view that the newly appointed Auditor-General Ajay Nand should have tabled 2015 audited reports by now is, unsurprisingly, legally flawed.

His interpretation of law is that the Auditor-General’s reports for 2015 should have been tabled last year before September 30.

Failure to do so, he says, is a gross breach of the 2013 Constitution and the Audit (Amendment) Act of 2006.

And he further casts aspersions on the authenticity of the reports and claims that the 2015 audit reports should have been submitted to Parliament by September 30, 2016.

He cites Section 152 (14) of the 2013 Constitution to back his claims.

 

What does the law really say about tabling of audited accounts?

Section 152 of the Constitution deals with the Auditor-General and reports of the Auditor-General.

Section 152(1) of the Constitution states that “at least once in every year, the Auditor-General shall inspect, audit and report to Parliament on the public accounts of the State, the control of public money and public property of the State, and all transactions with or concerning the public money or public property of the State.”

Section 152(13) of the Constitution states that “the Auditor-General must submit a report by him or her to the Speaker of Parliament and must submit a copy to the Minister responsible for finance.”

Section 152(14) then provides that “within 30 days of receipt, or if Parliament is not sitting, on the first day after the end of that period, the Minister responsible for finance must lay the report before Parliament.”

Section 12(1) of the Audit Act 1969 (which was inserted in May 2006) states that “a report of the Auditor-General to Parliament about an audit must be submitted to the Speaker of Parliament within nine months after the financial year to which the audit relates or within a longer period appointed by resolution of Parliament.”

 

Interpretation of above:

Thus the report for the 2015 financial year should have been submitted by September 30, 2016, or should be submitted to the Speaker within such longer period as approved/appointed by a resolution of Parliament.

The 2015 financial year report has not yet been submitted to the Minister or the Speaker.

Once the Minister receives a copy, then the Minister, at the next sitting of Parliament, can seek a resolution of Parliament to table the report at that sitting and actually table the report at that sitting. This will be in accordance with the Constitution as well as the Audit Act.

The remarks by NFP that the delay is a “gross breach of the Constitution” is legally not correct. The Constitution does not provide any time-limits as to when the Auditor-General should provide the report to the Minister. All the Constitution says is that once the Minister receives the report, he must table the report within 30 days or at the next sitting of Parliament.

The allegation by NFP that the delay is a breach of the Audit Act is also legally flawed, given that whilst the Act states that the report must be submitted within nine months, it expressly allows Parliament by resolution to approve a longer period.

The allegation by NFP that the Minister should have sought approval in September 2016 (that is, before the expiry of the nine months) for a longer period for the tabling of the 2015 report is also legally flawed.

The Audit Act does not say anything about when the resolution of Parliament must be sought. It is more practical for the Minister to seek the resolution of Parliament only when the Minister actually receives the report.

The somewhat absurd allegation by NFP that the delay is causing grave doubts on the authenticity of the report ignores the independence of the Auditor-General which is enshrined in the Constitution. Section 152(5) of the Constitution states that “in the performance of his or her functions or the exercise of his or her authority and powers, the Auditor-General shall be independent and shall not be subject to the direction or control of any person or authority, except by a court of law or as otherwise prescribed by written law.”

Indeed, the effect of section 152(5) is that even the Minister cannot direct ​the ​Auditor-General on anything with respect to the report, including demanding that the report be submitted at any time.

The constitutional independence of the Auditor-General ensures that the Auditor-General is free to report as he wishes, and the Minister must table that report in Parliament once a copy is submitted to the Minister.

If the report is submitted to the Minister after nine months, the Minister upon receipt of the report will then seek a resolution of Parliament to approve the tabling of the report, and then table the report as approved by Parliament.

The Auditor-General and his team have a massive task ahead of them. Asking them to rush through with audit reports is being silly.

Feedback: jyotip@fijisun.com.fj

 



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