By N. Unyage
The recent decision of the Director of Audit to bring out his Report in two volumes has been the subject of diverse comments in various quarters. The question is: is a second volume indeed warranted?
It is a regular feature to hear criticisms of the public service once the Report comes out, and readers will recall that following the release of the last Report the Prime Minister had stated that ‘si nou suive procedures be narien pas pou faire”. One cannot expect to take 100 decisions and get all of them correct. In fact, it is better to take decisions along with a few mistakes than not to take any decision at all!
There are many built-in mechanisms in the auditing system in the Civil Service such as the internal control section set up in each ministry, but under the responsibility of Ministry of Finance, to detect mismanagement and shortcomings and ensure that remedial actions are taken.
According to established procedures, before the Director of Audit submits his report, his Office sends management letters to Ministries/departments depicting the various weaknesses/irregularities following their audit. Ministries and departments are then requested to submit their explanations/justifications. If the Audit department is satisfied with the explanations, the matter will not be pursued further, that is, these weaknesses will not appear in the Report. Otherwise, these weaknesses will be mentioned in the Report, which is thereafter scrutinised by Civil servants and remedial action taken.
Furthermore, the Public Accounts Committee which comprises members of Parliament, both from the opposition and ruling party, (the Chairman is a member of the Opposition) examines the findings and the respective Ministry/department is called upon to submit explanations/justifications before the Committee. In addition, the Office of Public Sector Governance is mandated to continuously follow up on corrective actions taken by ministries following the Report.
An additional report would entail more resources in terms of more officers, time, allowance for overtime, in case the report is not ready on time; not to mention the other consumables/equipment required for this extra work. Year in and year out during the budget exercise, one hears that due to budget constraints all the existing vacancies in the various ministries will not be filled, so how will the Audit department manage to prepare a second volume when it is already short of staff?
A newspaper of Wednesday 16 January 2013 quotes the Director of Audit stating: “il (ndlr : Le Chef de la Fonction Publique) m’a dit que lorsque le gouvernement fait du bon travail, il faut en faire la publicité et en médiatiser”. On one radio channel, the Head of the Civil Service claimed that the Director of Audit himself suggested having two volumes of the Report. Which is which?
In what way will this second volume help civil servants or the citizens at large? Will it boost up the morale of some civil servants?
Some specialists in auditing have stated to the press that having two volumes is in accordance with the best practices of auditing and good governance. However, it has also been often said that Mauritius has its own specificities and should not blindly follow other countries. Therefore, in a small island state like Mauritius, taxpayers would surely agree that there is no need to have a second volume of the Report stating the actions taken or highlighting the good performance of Ministries/Civil Servants as they are paid out of public funds to do their job satisfactorily.
* Published in print edition on 25 January 2013