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Accountability of public resources

ACCOUNTABILITY OF PUBLIC RESOURCES

Recent public interest in the management of resources in

the public sector requires us to rethink our approach to public finances oversight.

A cursory glance of local dailies, news channels and social talk in the last one month reveals questionable financial malpractices covering the entire spectrum in the public sector.

This is a sad state of affairs as we strive to become a middle income economy by 2030. Could we then say that the 1.6 trillion shillings proposed expenditure in this financial year is safe amidst the demonstrated financial malpractices being experienced?

Reading the constitution reveals various commissions and state agencies set up to check on these malpractices. The question is how come this trend continues with a rapid increase of the amounts involved despite the numerous agencies set up to control it? Should we continue using the same methods we used yesteryears to fight the war against fraud, corruption, wastage and abuse of public resources?

Without casting any blame and pouring cold water onto ongoing efforts to fight corruption and restore good governance and accountability in the public sector; the point I am making is that we are either too slow or too late in reacting to these malpractices in a deterrent manner.

Most of these agencies come into the picture long after the horse has bolted. Is it still good enough talk about where and how money has been lost and service delivery compromised, while the perpetrators drag the oversight agencies in long, frustrating litigation games that run into years?

We need to strengthen institutions and mechanisms of ensuring that most of these anomalies are detected, deterred and acted upon in real time. The relevant oversight agencies must be proactive if we are to sustain the fight against corruption.

Whereas fiscal accountability has been the major focus of the Auditor General, there is need for continuous auditing if we are to respond to managerial accountability and assessment on service delivery.

The new dispensation not only requires the Auditor General to determine whether the books of accounts are correct or not, but even more important how the resources are managed and the impact in terms of changing the lives of ordinary Kenyans.

The constitution in 229 (4 and 6) requires the Auditor General to report and confirm whether or not public money has been applied lawfully and in an effective way.

Focus on managerial accountability is going to be important to Kenyans because it responds to Kenyans’ urge to see the top management in public sector uphold the principles of leadership and integrity under chapter six and the values and principles of public service under chapter thirteen of the constitution.

Consequently, offices such as the Office of the Auditor General must thus refocus to respond to the Kenyans urge for greater accountability. We need to approach our work in a way that addresses fiscal accountability, managerial accountability; and assessment of whether the resources have been efficiently, effectively and economically used in the delivery of services to the citizens.

The Auditor General’s involvement should no longer be a seasonal exercise that is done once a year but a continuous one that is relevant, timely, advisory and making appropriate recommendations to deter future malpractices.

Internal audit in public institutions is critical, but only if effective. We may have to review the manner in which internal auditing function is constituted in terms of appointment, status and protection from management manipulation.

There are many cases where internal auditors report to a much lower level in organizations for this function to be effective. The legal framework for internal audit in the public sector should be clearly captured in a robust Public Audit Act. The Office of the Auditor General is in advanced stages of drafting one.

Internal audit can no longer be just a management tool but an important function in the governance of a public institution. It should be noted that within the public sector domain, the Auditor General is “the primary internal auditor to “Wanjiku” and is the most independent.

Adequate resourcing of the Office of the Auditor General is critical. Whereas the auditor General should do more with little, the resources allocated to the office cannot be the same as in previous years, when we only had one big cake (the national government) to audit. The new constitution has created two levels of Government: one national Government and 47 County Governments. All these share the same cake and are required to be audited as distinct units. The Office of the Auditor General needs to massively invest in ICT to do smart and cost effective audits, and to rationalize the increase in the number of heads that will be required to respond to the widened mandate. In so doing, the office must prioritize areas where public resources are at most risk.

In the current transition the resources are at risk, and in this regard, the Auditor General has discharged staff to all forty seven counties to undertake specific assignment that should ensure that the devolved funds will be absorbed in an accountable manner.

For a comprehensive accountability of the National and County budgets, the Auditor General should report back and communicate firsthand with “Wanjiku” in a timely manner. There is a need for a parliamentary forum where the Auditor General informs Kenyans how resources budgeted in the previous fiscal year have been utilized and accounted for by both National and County Governments.

 

The Writer is the Auditor General of Kenya

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