MASERU – A recent World Bank report on the independence of the national audit institutions has exposed Lesotho as one of the only 29 least independent auditing authorities in the world. The results from the Supreme Audit Institutions Independence Index assessment of 118 countries show that much needs to be done to meet the aspirations of the 1977 Lima Declaration on the independence of Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs).
The SAIs play a pivotal role in promoting good governance, transparency and accountability. They also contribute to monitoring the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). “Independence is a critical foundation for the effective functioning of the SAIs. Truly independent SAIs can fulfil their mandate to reduce waste and the abuse of public resources so that public resources can be better channeled for programmes that fight poverty, which is a focus of the international development community and the core mission of the World Bank Group,” the report says.
Reference of the report dates from as far back as 2015, with the latest being 2020. Lesotho, Madagascar and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are the only Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries which received the lowest grades. While not entirely disputing the World Bank findings, the office of the Auditor General holds a different view, revealing in an interview this week that progress has been made in Lesotho, particularly since the operationalisation of the Audit Act of 2016.
“We are of the view that the study was carried out before the Audit Act 2016 became effective. However, this is what transpired, in line with issues of functional independence, Section 117 of the Constitution provides for that and the Auditor General has always been functionally independent.
“On the side of organisational independence, the Audit Act 2016 provides for the organisational independence as the Auditor General has recruited staff from November 2019 as opposed to the Public Service Commission recruiting on the office’s behalf. However, the recruitment of the Auditor General would be addressed in the constitutional reforms,” the Communications Manager in the Office of the Auditor General, Matšepo Mohau, said.
The office of the Auditor General was established in terms of Section 117 of the Constitution which states, among others, that there shall be an Auditor General whose office shall be an office in the public service.
The Constitution also recognises the independence of the Auditor General, stating that in exercising his/her functions, the Auditor General shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other person or authority. Ms Mohau said while the issue of financial independence is provided for in the Audit Act 2016, the office is still served as one of the government ministries to date.
“Financial independence is provided for in the Audit Act of 2016, but we are still served as one of the government ministries and we were also affected by transitional arrangements. The implementation of the financial independence is a process,” she added.
Among others, the report found out that while the majority of SAIs were legally mandated to publish annual reports and present them to the legislature, this mandate was not consistently discharged and there were wide-ranging variations.
Among the deficiencies noted were limited opportunity to subject the reports for deliberation by the legislature, undue delays in finalising and publishing reports and inconsistencies in publication and public access.