IDB flags Audit Office capacity ahead of oil money
… says transparency, accountability required now more than ever
The independence and capacity of the Auditor General’s Office is one of the priority areas to be addressed by Guyana, in order to ensure there is transparency and accountability with regards the oversight of the nation’s revenue and expenditure of public resources, especially in light of the imminent influx of monies into the economy as a result of oil and gas production.
This was disclosed by Resident Representative of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Sophie Makonnen, as she brought the curtains down on
a multiyear capacity building programme funded primarily by the International Financial Institution (IFI) and held at the Georgetown Marriott Hotel.
Echoing Makonnen’s sentiments was President of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) Deodat Indar, who went a step further in calling for the strengthening of the internal audit mechanisms at the Finance Minister’s Accountant General’s office.
The IDB representative, in her remarks to the participants, was adamant that “institutional capacity in the Public Sector is one of the priorities that will ensure growth in social and economic development of Guyana; this is really important in the current situation in which Guyana finds itself and I refer to oil revenues which you are expecting in the next few years.”
Makonnen told those in attendance, inclusive of internal and external auditors along with Finance Ministry staffers, that transparency and accountability are
required now more than ever with the advent of the oil revenues.
She explained that the US$2 million that the IDB plugged in the capacity building programme for the Audit Office is a component of the wider assistance provided to Guyana with regards capacity building for the Public Sector.
Makonnen used the opportunity to stress the importance of “control functions” in the Public Sector, adding that this “cannot be over emphasised as importance in the decade to come.”
GCCI President Indar, in his unrestrained keynote address to those gathered, sought to remind that the Office of the Auditor General of Guyana stands as a vanguard against threats to its democracy and also called on that body to strengthen its internal deficiencies.
“The Audit Office is a vanguard in any thriving democracy; its office audits the use of taxpayers’ dollars and report the same to the Parliament of the people led by the Speaker…We would be comfortable at any moment in time in the history of Guyana when the collective wisdom of Guyana’s decision makers sees the value of this Audit Office and the benefits it dispenses.”
Speaking to the need for greater controls with regard the internal auditing mechanism of the Ministry of Finance, Indar sought to underscore the need for the Auditor General’s Office to be able to rely on the accuracy of the information provided especially in light of its own resource and personnel constraints.
As such, he used the opportunity to welcome the support of the IDB to the Auditor General’s Office, in order to “strengthen this major constitutional body so that it becomes competent as much as it could be, independent in the true sense of the word.”
Speaking to the relationship between the Finance Ministry’s Accountant General’s Office and that of the Auditor General, the GCCI President reiterated, “the Ministry of Finance has a corps of internal auditors which is the central corps of internal auditors and they are mandated to work with the Audit Office to make sure that their programmes align, work is not duplicated, the external auditors can use the work of the internal auditors providing that that work is proper… and there is quality assurance in the work of the internal auditor so the external auditor can rely on that work.”
He was at the time addressing specifically, the Accountant General (ag) Jennifer Chapman and appealed for that officer to ensure that resources are channelled in order to be able to better use cross functional resources, in order to reduce the work load on the staff of the internal auditors. According to Indar, “in a national environment where they have rife, where they have strife, where they have back and forth, the Audit Office will come under fire.” He called on the Auditor General Deodat Sharma, to remain strong in the task at hand, namely the efficient audits of the national spending by Government in the Public Sector.
Accountant General, Jennifer Chapman, speaking on behalf of the Finance Ministry, also used the occasion to underscore the importance of the Audit Office.
She said it was Government’s responsibility to provide quality public service to its citizenry since it is the custodian of public finances and properties.
Conceding that governments are constantly under pressure to improve the services provided while reducing the cost to the taxpayer, Chapman told the closing ceremony, “based on this premise and in keeping with the statutory mandate the Ministry of Finance and the Audit Office have an inter-agency coordination and cooperation.”
This, she said, is aimed at improving public management controls and accurate oversight of the public accounts. “Strong public financial management are essential to improved public service delivery, speed-up poverty reduction and to achieve sustainable development goals,” she said.
Effective public financial management systems have also strengthened transparency and accountability and financial efficiency, according to Chapman, who concluded that this provides an important element of truth in public finances.
“Consequently, transparency and accountability are pillars of good governance and it is at this juncture that the fundamental function of the Auditor General is the protection of public interest.”
The multiyear capacity building programme commences in March 2004 and was financed through four tranches of disbursements from the IDB to the tune of US$2 million with the support of Government to the tune of US$145,000.
During the three years, in addition to the training afforded to members of the Audit Office, a sizeable amount of the money was utilised in the digitising of the Office.
The primary objective of the agreement which led to the multiyear programme was identified as the continued support of the process of modernising and strengthening of the Audit Office of Guyana to stabilise the transition into an independent and more effective national audit office, as mandated by the 2001 Constitutional Amendment to improve public accountability.
The specific objectives of the programme centred on enhancing the efficiency of its auditing processes; institutionalising best practices, knowledge and skills for sustainable operations; and raising the institution’s visibility to ensure collaboration with stakeholders.
With regards the push towards a more digitised method of conduction audits, it was reported that close to two thirds of the final tranche of monies disbursed was spent in this area alone.
Participants were told that the Audit Office has since installed and have begun using the TeamMate Audit management Software which provides for the standardisation of working papers, in keeping with international standards and practices.
It was explained too that the software ensures quality work is produced on a consistent basis and that the timeliness of the report can be guaranteed providing the software is used as intended.
Funding from the project was also utilised on capacity building through report writing workshops, performance and procurement auditing in addition to forensic accounting and fraud investigations.
According to Auditor General Deodat Sharma, moving forward, the office intends to fully implement the TeamMate Audit Management Software while reducing the time taken to produce its annual report on the public accounts of Guyana to Parliament.