Parliament is scheduled to debate the Public Audit Bill, 2014, setting stage for a new and critical framework to ensure accountability and transparency of public funds. Public Audit Bill is crucial in entrenching a system that will better ensure that public servants are better held to account through proactive measures that also ensure efficiency at the Auditor General’s office.
A quick glance of media reports including social media indicates questionable financial malpractices covering the entire spectrum in the public sector. This raises public interest concerns in the management of the public sector, specifically the approach to public finances oversight.
The Constitution, informed by past plunders including mega scandals like Anglo-Leasing and Goldenberg, enshrines various institutions to check the management of public funds. However, this seems not to be the case, over four years since the promulgation of the Constitution. Perhaps this calls for the strengthening of institutions and mechanisms of ensuring that early detection is made. A deterrent approach would help in checking the vice in good time.
The Public Audit Law should strengthen the Auditor General’s office to ensure there is continuous auditing and not seasonal. The Constitution in Article 229 (4 and 6) requires the Auditor General to report and confirm whether or not public money has been applied lawfully and in an effective way.
Ensuring managerial accountability is critical in offering leadership at the highest level. Chapter six of the Constitution expects high officer bearers to uphold certain principles and values and ensure integrity at all times.
Already, there are concerns about the Bill in its current form. The Auditor General has raised some issues in the Bill that seek to limit his ability to deliver. Dr. Edward Ouko wants MPs to make changes to clause 40 of the Bill on auditing national security organs, which he said is too prescriptive to the extent that it gags the auditor from discharging his mandate. He also wants changes to clause 20 of the Bill which proposes that he submits his budget to the Treasury for review and subsequent transmission to Parliament for approval. Dr. Ouko is of the view that reviews should be submitted to Parliament and not treasury.
However, two provisions stand out. One, civil servants will be cited personally in audit reports for loss of State funds. This is a good departure from the current where the Auditor-General only highlights misuse of State funds. Secondly, the Bill grants the Auditor-General powers to recommend withholding of funds to a public entity for violation of the law. This is crucial in nipping the bud before more plunder is done and current questions can be answered sooner.
There could be many other areas that need amendments. It therefore calls upon all interested parties to read the Bill and propose measures that will ensure the law is beyond reproach. Kenyans need to seize this moment and actualize prudent public audits.