Goolsarran blasts finance minister, lawmakers over tardy accounts

Former Auditor General Anand Goolsarran has berated the Minister of Finance and legislators for the late presentation of accounts for dozens of statutory bodies.
In his accountability column in
today’s Stabroek News, Goolsarran said that audit office records show that as of 31 August 2013 only four out of 40 such bodies listed in the Estimates of Expenditure have audited accounts for 2012.
Goolsarran, under whose tenure public accounts were brought back into order, pointed out that under the Fiscal Management and Accountability (FMA) Act
all statutory bodies have to have their accounts audited and presented to the concerned Ministers not later than four months after the close of the financial year.
“As at 31 August 2013, however, only four out of 40 such bodies listed in the Estimates of Expenditure have audited accounts for 2012. In addition, most of these entities are significantly in arrears in terms of financial reporting and audit. According to the Audit Office’s records, 14 entities did not have their accounts audited for more than five years, including the expenditure on the World Cup Cricket, (Government) Information Agency (GINA), National Parks Commission, and Transport and Harbours Department”, Goolsarran said.
He said that most of the statutory bodies are in receipt of government subsidies and therefore there is a greater need for the legislature to be informed in a timely manner of the state and performance of these entities.
Section 80 of the Act requires the concerned Ministers to submit the annual reports (including audited financial statements) of statutory bodies to the National Assembly within two months of the receipt of such reports. Within six months of the close of the financial year, all statutory bodies are to have their annual reports tabled in the National Assembly, Goolsarran said.
Not a single annual report for 2012 has been laid in Parliament.
“An examination of the records of Parliament Office revealed that no annual reports for 2012 in respect of statutory bodies were laid in the National Assembly. Where annual reports were presented in the National Assembly, in many cases several years were submitted together”, Goolsarran said.
He examined a pattern of submission from 2006 to date and found that for 21 entities, the average number of years tendered at the same time was eight.
“This trend clearly indicates the level of tardiness involved in adhering to the requirements of the law and in fulfilling a fundamental requirement of any democratic system ‒ providing timely feedback to the legislature on how public entities have expended funds allocated to them and whether good value was achieved for expenditure incurred by them. What is even more alarming is that legislators seem comfortable with, indeed are complacent about, this practice since there is no evidence that concerns were raised in relation to the lack of timeliness in having annual reports and audited financial statements laid in the National Assembly”, Goolsarran charged.
In addition, he said there is no discussion of these reports and the laying of the accounts is seen as merely an academic exercise.
“Indeed, none of the annual reports of statutory bodies and public enterprises were referred to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) for detailed scrutiny.
Given the above state of affairs as it relates to the accountability arrangements for statutory bodies, including public enterprises, as well as the work of the PAC, one can legitimately ask the question ‒ is this the way the concerned ministers and legislators are serving the public interest?”, Goolsarran asked.
Noting that some persons seem contented that audited accounts of the country are being presented in a timely manner, Goolsarran said that the larger issue was the quality of those accounts.
“In the case of the 2011 public accounts, of 13 sets of financial statements submitted for audit, the Auditor General did not give any an unqualified opinion, ie a ‘clean’ bill of health. In fact, he disclaimed his opinion on five of these accounts because of uncertainties of a fundamental nature. The remaining eight sets of statements were given qualified opinions because of uncertainties of a material nature”, Goolsarran said.
Adverting to 1992, the year when public accountability was restored, Goolsarran said that the resumption was not a perfect one. Of the ten sets of financial statements tendered for audit, disclaimers of opinion were issued for three sets of statements while the other seven were given qualified opinions. Two sets of statements were not presented for audit because the government was unable to put them together. Goolsarran argued that this was understandable, given the ten-year gap in financial reporting.
“However, one would have expected that as each year elapsed, there would have been progressive improvements in the quality of financial reporting. It is indeed regrettable that this has not happened since the Auditor General’s assessment over the years culminating in 2011 reflects a situation almost identical to that of 1992”, Goolsarran charged.
He added that no one seems to care about the quality and timeliness of the accountability arrangements and argued that a disclaimed set of accounts is “not worth the paper it is written on, yet we seem excited to go through the annual ritual of presenting the audited public accounts to the Speaker of the National Assembly in the presence of members of the PAC and the media.”
“It boggles the mind that our Minister of Finance, who has a PhD in Accounting and Finance and who certifies the public accounts, has not seen the urgent need to overhaul our accounting and financial reporting system to bring it in line with international best practices and to ensure quality accounts are produced”, Goolsarran said.
He noted that under Section 58 (1) of the FMA Act, the Minister is required to issue appropriate accounting standards for officials responsible for the maintenance of the accounts and records.

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