The Auditor-General needs teeth

The Auditor-General of Namibia (AGN) needs more than just a bark; the holder of that office needs the ability to take a deep, nasty bite. To do that, he needs legislative and regulatory teeth. The Act governing this office must be strengthened.

We need our AGN to be able to subpoena records. The AGN must be able to lay charges with the Prosecutor General. The Auditor-General should have the ability (with a judge’s warrant) to have people locked up until they comply with the law for reporting, providing accurate records, and allowing access to registered AGN personnel.

This is a tough step and one that likely will not happen. Those passing laws to empower the AGN might well be his/her first arrests. Most ministries, SOEs and municipalities are behind on their annual, regulatory financial reporting obligations. The detritus of incomplete submissions, missing receipts, absent bank records, no legal permission for unbudgeted expenditure, and cash money withdrawn with absolutely no paper trail are strewn all over the AGN’s office.

The AGN is almost a joke to those who are supposed to be compliant with the law. The AGN needs teeth to take a huge bite out of all those laughing as they flout the law. People are treating state funds like their own slush funds in some cases. The AGN is there to prevent this and is being restrained from doing his job by lax administrative processes.

We see announcements of unclean audits from 4-6 years ago. The AGN has said that he can only work with the documentation provided by those being audited. If SOEs, Ministries, municipalities and agencies are lax about how they used government funds, then they must pay a price for that casualness.

If they refuse to give an AGN with teeth what he/she needs to do the job, then those who are refusing need to go to jail until they comply.

The main problem is that Namibia does not have a reading or record keeping culture. We sort of loll around and spend what we have on whatever momentary imperative is sexy at the time. We have annual budgets, and mostly they are followed. Bravo. But, when an order comes down from above to quickly do something else, we abandon those budgets and plans in a nanosecond.

We follow the ‘what-I-was-ordered-to- spend-money-on-today’ rule. Actually, that should be in the budget at the outset. But, that is not the crux of the problem.

The problem comes when it is time to put receipts, invoices, authorizing memos, and inventories on the table. That is where our demon of poor record-keeping bites us in the institutional butt. Because we have this hole in our administrative minds, the embezzlers, wasters, and thieves lie in wait. When they see their chance, they help themselves.

They know that what they stole won’t be discovered for years. Even when it does come to light, no one will be held accountable anyway.

Those who were present when the stealing took place will be long gone or even dead. It is difficult to lambast a current Executive Director for record-keeping laziness by a predecessor.

If we have an AGN with teeth, then there will be no multi-year gaps in audits. They would be done every year or someone sits in jail until they are.

There should be a mandatory ‘Record-Keeping 101’ class sponsored by the AGN. Those that do not attend must be blocked from receiving state funds (including salary and S&T) until they attend. That will solve the problem quickly.

We need a whip and a chair for the AGN. Regulations alone have already shown that they do not work. Ministers and others in charge readily sidestep the law in these cases.

We recall the Minister of Defence berating the age of the auditing team that came to hold his ministry accountable for taxpayer dollars. He used that as a reason for restricting the mandated audit. Those affected by the audit must not be the final word on the AGN’s mandate.

Teeth for the AGN must come with consistent and regular training. They will need more budget, qualified staff, and total transparency. There can be no political agendas. There must be no hint of secret payments, bribes, tribalism, or favouritism.

We need to begin the research on the matter and put solid proposals on the table to beef-up the AGN’s office. There are other models for empowered AGN’s internationally.

Parliament and Cabinet will not move fast on this. It is hard to vote to limit yourself. Taxpayers must insist on an AGN with teeth and hold government accountable until it is in place.

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