Tough new laws to check public expenditure

* Sweeping powers to Auditor General

* Speaker to chair Constitutional Audit Council

By Ravi Ladduwahetty
The Government will shortly introduce the 20th Amendment to the Constitution aimed at sweeping audit reforms in a bid to ensure good governance and transparency in the state sector.

Auditor General Sarath Chandrasiri Mayadunne told the Nation - Economist in an exclusive interview that the proposed constitutional amendment has already been approved in principal by the Cabinet of Ministers and draft documents have been submitted to the President's office.

He also said that the proposed legislation has also received the nod of all political parties represented in the parliament and thus is likely to receive the two third majority required for a constitutional amendment.

Mayadunne said that the proposed amendment will replace the section 153 of the constitution which deals with the Auditor General and introduce a new section creating a Constitutional Audit Council, a National Audit Service Commission and a National Audit Office which together will strengthen the office of the Auditor General.

The amendment will also empower the Auditor General with far reaching powers enabling him to make statements to the media disclosing the findings he has made ensuring transparency, he said.

The new amendment will require that Auditor General be appointed by warrant under the hand of the President and be sworn into that office by the President. The AG will retire on attaining the age of sixty five years or when he completes ten years in office whichever comes earlier.

The Auditor General, under the proposed Amendment, will not be removed from office except by an order of the President made after an address of Parliament supported by a majority of the total number of members (including those not present) and presented to the President for such removal on the grounds of proved misbehavior or incapacity.

A resolution for presentation of such an address will not be entertained by the speaker or placed on the order paper of the parliament unless notice of such resolution has been signed at least by one third of the Members of Parliament. The Auditor General will also be functioning only after being sworn into that office by the President.

The proposed new Parliamentary Committee called the Constitutional Audit Council and the National Audit Commission will make accountability a mandatory requisite with sweeping changes to the existing legislation.

The Constitutional Audit Council will comprise the Speaker of Parliament, who will be the Chairman of the Council, the Leader of the House, the Leader of the Opposition, Chairman and three other members of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) and Chairman and three other members of the Committee on Public Accounts.

The National Audit Service Commission will be chaired by the Auditor General will include a high ranking officer of the National Audit Service, an ex-member of the Public Service Commission and two other persons who had distinguished themselves in any profession or in the field of accountancy, auditing, law, economics or public administration. They will report to the Audit Council periodically about the discharge of their duties and functions.

Auditor General will also be empowered to impose fines in respect of transactions made contrary to the law and to surcharge any person the amount of any deficiency or loss incurred due to fraud, corruption negligence or misconduct or any other amount which ought to have been, but not been brought into account by that person.

There will also be stringent provisions to punish those attempting to influence the Commission or tamper with the working of the Commission. Any person, who otherwise than in the course of his duty, directly or indirectly influences the decision of the Commission, or interferes with the exercise or performances of audit powers, will be liable to a fine of

Rs.100, 000 or a seven year imprisonment or both.

The functions of the proposed Audit Council will be to review and present to Parliament the estimates prepared for the National Audit office by the National Audit Services Commission for inclusion in the National Budget.

The council also will act as the Appellant Authority with regard to the surcharges made by the Auditor General under any law and consider any reports and recommendations submitted by the commission and report to parliament whenever it considers necessary to safeguard the independence of the Auditor General, the Commission and the members of the National Audit Service.

Article 154 of the Constitution will also be repealed and replaced with Article 154 (1) with the additions to cover the empowerment of the Auditor General's Department to audit all Government Ministries, offices, institutions and commissions receiving appropriations of provisions made by Parliament, Provincial Councils, local authorities, any institution established by written law with public resources provided wholly, partly, indirectly or indirectly and where the Government is holding 50% of the share capital and above.

The Auditor General will also have the discretion to audit any person or institution to the extent that those persons or bodies have received or enjoyed public finance as provided in Article 148 of the Constitution and have access to all books, records, returns, stores and property.

The Auditor General will also be empowered with the discretion of not disclosing any information that is detrimental to the national security and defence of the country or which are detrimental to country's international relations.