The Office of the Auditor General (OAG) has tabled the draft of a new legislation in parliament in an attempt to go independent.
The Audit Bill of 2015, seeks to repeal the outdated Audit Act of 1973 and the Statutory Bodies Acts of 1973 which currently guide the operations of the OAG.
The office, whose function is to promote sustainable public accountability, transparency and value for money by providing auditing services, currently does not have financial and administrative autonomy as it a statutory body whose staff is regulated under laws and regulations of the civil service, while its finances are from the ministry of finance.
“The object of the Bill is to repeal Audit Act, 1973, and the Audit (Statutory Bodies) Act, 1973 in order to provide for the establishment and independence of the Office of the Auditor-General in line with section 117 of the Constitution,” reads part of the bill’s statement of objectives and reasons.
Among other objectives, the bill seeks to establish an audit revenue to oversee effectiveness of the internal controls of the OAG.
It further shows that conditions of service and remuneration for the Deputy Auditor General and other members of the staff shall be determined by the Auditor General.
In an interview with the Auditor General Mrs. Lucy Liphafa, lack of autonomy on human resources function presents the office with challenges as the auditing profession has unique ethics that do not necessarily apply to the rest of the civil service.
“One of the important issues to be reviewed under the new law is staffing. We would like to have the freedom to appoint the type of staff that we need. As it is sometimes we would just be sent anybody they like as part of placement of graduates.
“The problem with that is we would be given internal auditors from Technicons whereas we would prefer those who have graduated in Economics, Bcom, Public Administration and so on. So, you will find that when these people arrive in the office, they really struggle to work,” Liphafa said in an interview with Lesotho Times on the side lines of a media workshop on Tuesday.
She further indicated that because they do not handled their own recruitment, the process of replacing members who have left takes a long time. This is over and above the fact that they are already understaffed.
She said this lack of human resources compromises the function of the office, as it cannot reach all sectors of the public accounts.
Another major challenge the current legal framework presents is lack of financial independence, which leads to insufficient budget allocation that does not meet their requirements.
“As it is you may find that sometimes 85 percent of our budget allocations goes to salaries of our staff, and we are expected to carry out our activities with the remainder,” she added.
“But if we were to have adequate resources to employ the caliber of people and the equipment we need, all this mismanagement of public funds would be abated, since we would pick up such activities easily,” Liphafa explained.
She said the new law would also improve the way in which the office reports its finding to parliament. The OAG releases an annual audit report on the usage of public finances.
“The challenge here is the manner in which the report is tabled, because we are expecting that when the report is given out, it should highlight the findings it contains even before it is tabled before the public accounts committee.”
She wants the audit report to be published in a similar manner to that of the budget speech estimates which are highlighted in front of the joint sitting of parliament.
Principal Legal Officer Mrs Matsie Mapesela said the tenure of auditor general would also be reviewed under the new law in line with international standards. She said the bill is currently before the economic cluster committee of the parliament.
“Upon the passage of this law, there will be enhanced independence. Like I said earlier, we only have operational independence, we are not yet autonomous,” Mapesela said during the media workshop.
She said the new law would also allow for external auditing of the work of the office of the auditor general.