The new National Audit Bill has just been approved by the Cabinet, and would be presented to Parliament soon, according to a senior minister, who stressed on the importance of quality audits in Sri Lanka.
“The Audit Bill, which was hanging over the fire for a long time, and causing the Auditor General great concern, was approved by the Cabinet and will come to parliament very soon,” Special Assignments Minister Dr. Sarath Amunugama said.
The minister, who was speaking at the 12th Inspection Workshop of the International Forum of Independent Audit Regulators this Monday, said that the Auditor General was yet to be given the good news.
The bill was initially expected to come into effect by March 19, 2015 under the 100-day programme of the coalition government, which came into power in January 2015 based on a campaign of good governance, with anti-corruption, transparency and accountability as cornerstones.
However, conducting quality audits, which are essential for minimizing corruption, and maximizing transparency and accountability, faced resistance.
Following protests made by some politicians and ministry secretaries, amendments to the bill were approved by the Cabinet last October, which saw the removal of provisions in the bill, which allow the Auditor General to impose personal surcharges on public officials for financial misconduct. Some of the worst insider trading, financial mismanagement and corrupt activities in recent times, costing the public billions of rupees have been brought to debate in parliament this month, while investigations are ongoing into many others, including one of the biggest scandals at SriLankan Airlines.
Dr. Amunugama said that Sri Lanka is now transitioning to a private sector driven economic agenda from the public sector dominated economy of the past, when audits were difficult.
“We are transitioning from a period where the government ran almost all the major enterprises, and there I think auditing was a superhuman task. It was not easy because there were no shareholders. Only the government, which was insisting on performance, dividends and returns. Rather than that, these corporations would look to the Treasury to fill in the gaps,” he said
Dr. Amunugama said that at a time when Sri Lanka is clamouring for attention from foreign investors, providing properly audited financial statements by both the state and private sector are paramount. “The government, whatever we say, however much we go and promote the need for investment, go all over the world, have special meetings, promotional meetings, all that sort of things, asking people to invest, but then they want to know the status of the economy, the facts, the state of health of our corporate entities,” he said. He added that if Sri Lanka is to achieve a breakthrough in economic growth, improvements need to be made in the area of auditing for Sri Lankan corporates to attract investments and joint venture partnerships.