AG says Model Law on Public Financial Mgt good for SDGs

Special Correspondent

The Auditor-General of Namibia, Mr. Junias Kandjeke, has commended the SADC Parliamentary Forum for developing a SADC Model Law on Public Financial Management (PFM), saying the regional soft law can help in efforts to meet Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Good PFM is widely seen as an enabler in achieving SDGs because it promotes evidence-based budget allocation and prudent management of scarce public resources to support public infrastructure and social investments. For example, Target 12.7 of the SDGs seeks to promote sustainable public procurement practices while Target 16.6 focuses on development of effective, accountable and transparent institutions.

Last week, Kandjeke joined other AGs from all over the SADC Region in a virtual consultation meeting meant to gather comments to strengthen the draft SADC Model Law on PFM as the Forum moves towards entrenching financial accountability and transparency in managing public resources, good governance and democracy as espoused in its strategic plan (2019-2023).

In an interview, the AG said the evolving SADC Model Law on PFM “is welcome”.

Kandjeke is one of Auditors-General that audit the SADC Secretariat which represents the Executive branch of SADC. His wish is to see the region’s MPs becoming more involved in providing oversight in national and regional institutions in keeping with their mandate.

He said: “When we audit the SADC Secretariat, our report goes to the SADC Executive Secretary and then to the Council of Ministers from Member States. The report ends there. There should be a possibility for SADC PF or for SADC to have a review committee of Parliamentarians to enhance accountability and oversight at that level.”

He stressed the need to make the Office of the AG an independent scrutineer of the acquisition and use of state resources, especially finances.

“This should be incorporated in the draft Model Law on PFM in line with INTOSAI -P1 and -P10 on independence of Supreme Audit Institutions,” he said. He called upon SADC to endorse the implementation of the UN General Assembly Resolution A66/209 of 22 December 2011 which calls for “promoting the efficiency, accountability, effectiveness and transparency of Public Administration by strengthening Supreme Audit Institutions.”

“We want the Supreme Audit Institution (SAI) to be the institution of the country. It must represent the taxpayers and be accountable to the taxpayer on governments’ pledges or spending,” he said, adding that many countries were moving away from the Executive appointing the AG and providing regulations to guide the office.

“Best practice is for the Parliament to oversee how state money is used. CSOs, ordinary citizens and the Executive have a right to know how the state’s resources are being managed and used. Once money has been borrowed, Parliament must approve its usage,” he noted.

Kandjeke described the interaction between AG offices and other stakeholders in the PFM processes of the state including Public Accounts Committees in the SADC Region as robust and ongoing, but said implementation of recommendations remained poor. He expressed optimism that the SADC Model Law on PFM would generate best practices in this regard.

He regretted that in some countries the AG’s annual report is perennially late. To remedy the situation, Kandjeke said national Parliaments must craft laws that compel public institutions to provide the AG’s office with financial statements on time.

“An audit is very complicated depending on its type. If it is a financial audit, there has to be financial statements for the Auditor-General to verify. If the entity has not prepared financial statements, there is no way the AG can audit,” he argued.

He noted that in some jurisdictions the AG is empowered to give “a Special report” stating that given institutions could not be audited due to late or missing financial statements.

“When this happens, Parliament can summon those institutions to demand explanations as to why they have not complied,” he said.

On accountability, he said a common problem in the SADC Region was that sometimes current accounting officers were quizzed over things done by previous officials.

“We could consider public hearings to which we call the accounting officer who was at the helm when things went wrong. If we call the person who was there to account for his/her actions, l think it will be a lesson for everybody,” he said.

Pressed on how the AG’s office can help combat corruption, Kandjeke stressed that investigating corruption was not the mandate of AGs, but of the Anti-Corruption Commissions. He, however stressed that fighting corruption “is an obligation of every SADC citizen, including AGs”.

SDGs 16 and 17 seek “peace, justice and strong institutions”. With that in mind, Kandjeke said there was a critical shortage of skilled, trained and experienced human resources, especially for specialized audits in the SADC region.

“We don’t have enough human resources in Namibia and the SADC Region. We lack certified auditors, certified accountants or certified environmental auditors. Value for money audits are difficult and we don’t have staff to undertake them. Most of our people are qualified only in financial auditing,” he noted.

He urged Parliaments to support the training of human resources for PFM in its many facets.

“We need to invest in people,” he said.

He expressed optimism that a strong regional PFM framework would not only strengthen PFM in Member States but would also support the setting up of regional infrastructure like trans frontier bridges.

 

Quizzed further on appointment and tenure of the AG, he said while the technicalities could differ from country to country, ideally the AG should be independently appointed or disappointed by the Parliament.

“In Namibia, the President appoints the AG at the recommendation of Parliament. The Public Service Commission recommends to Parliament which then approves and requests the President to appoint the Auditor General,” he explained.

Turning to the tenure of the AG, Kandjeke said whereas some Constitutions were very clear on the length of the first term of the AG, many did not set a limit. He revealed that the feeling among AGs within the region was that even private audit firms auditing entities in a country should be limited to given terms to prevent malfeasance or them “becoming friends with the institutions they are auditing”.

The Namibian AG stressed that the SADC Model Law on PFM should set very high standards and not fall below what was already in place or being contemplated.

On transparent management of resources, the AG said MPs as representative of the people must be kept in the know with respect to the state of financial resources.

The Model Law on PFM seeks, inter alia, to create an overarching principle of PFM issues including crypto currency management while drawing on knowledge and experiences from other jurisdictions. Crypto currency is a developing phenomenon that raises practical and ethical financial management questions.

The Model Law comes at a time when – in some parts of the world – there is a deficit of trust among citizens who think their governments are no longer working for them. This at a time when the world, and the SADC region in particular, is grappling with the effects of the global Covid-19 pandemic, which has devastated economies and compromised livelihoods. The Model Law envisages a requirement for public officials to articulate measurable outcomes for the optimisation of public revenue and expenditure for sustainability, accountability and parliamentary oversight.

By Observer