MASERU — The National Assembly on Monday passed a motion that seeks to make the office of the Auditor-General answerable to parliament.
The Auditor-General’s office currently works under the Ministry of Public Service in line with section 117 (1) of the country’s constitution.
But under the new proposal, that section of the constitution will be amended to allow the office of the Auditor-General to function “under the guardianship of parliament”.
The motion was proposed by Lesotho Workers Party deputy leader, Sello Maphalla, and was seconded by Popular Front for Democracy MP, Thabang Kholumo.
“That in the opinion of this Honourable House time is now opportune to amend section 117 of the Constitution of Lesotho in an effort to adopt a resolution of the Southern African Development Community Organisation of the Public Accounts Committees to make the office of the Auditor-General accountable to parliament,” reads the motion.
In a debate prior to the adoption of the motion, it was clear that all MPs were in favour of the motion.
There were however concerns that the decision to move the office of the Auditor-General could “interfere with the autonomy of the office”.
Basotho National Party (BNP) MP, Ranthomeng Matete, supported the motion but urged that the independence of the office of the Auditor-General should “not to be tampered with”.
“The coming of the office of the Auditor-General to parliament should not affect its independence because it currently is a neutral office,” Matete said.
“Evidence to that is contained in its reports which have proven that it does not take orders from or suck up to the government. It also seems to be insulated from political pressure.
“That should remain so when the office comes here. Since we also do things along party lines, let that not apply when dealing with that office.
“Let us not subject the Auditor-General to political pressure,” Matete said.
He said passing the motion would ensure that we conform “to parliamentary reform programmes elsewhere in Sadc”.
Maphalla said he was happy that the motion had passed because the Southern African Development Community Organisation of the Public Accounts Committees (SADCOPAC) recommended that the office should be run “directly under parliament”.
“It will most definitely retain its autonomy, even much better that when it’s under the control of the minister,” Maphalla said.
“But the fact that the motion was adopted does not mean that we now have to relax. If anything, we have to push for its implementation as is dictated by section 105 of the Parliament’s Standing Orders.”
Standing order 105 directs that the Clerk of the National Assembly should instruct the relevant minister to implement the proposal “within 30 days of adoption of the motion by the house”.
Section (3) of the same standing order directs that, “If the recommendation has not been implemented within 30 days, the relevant minister must report in writing to the speaker providing reasons for failure to submit such a report.”
An MP from the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) party, Kose Makoa, said the motion was a step in the right direction because the office would “work directly with the Public Accounts Committee (PAC)”.
“The office will be able to work directly with the PAC to oversee the management of public funds. We will also be adhering to the international resolutions that our country has signed,” Makoa said.
LWP MP Sello Machakela said he was pleased with the adoption of the motion.
“It is also refreshing to find the ruling party and opposition MPs unanimously voting for this motion,” Machakela said.
Finance Minister Timothy Thahane however told parliament that people should not start celebrating because the amendment to section 117 of the constitution “is yet to be made”.
“Before we get into the real issue, which in this case is the incorporation of the said office into parliament, we first have to get past the required amendment of the constitution,” Thahane said.
Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chairman and leader of the Marematlou Freedom Party (MFP) Moeketse Malebo said on Tuesday that the passing of the motion “is a milestone”.
“The house will have access to as many special reports as possible if the office of the Auditor-General were to be accountable to parliament,” Malebo said.
Malebo said one of the greatest advantages for the PAC was that the office of the auditor-general “will answer directly to parliament”.
“When issues arise that need the attention of that office, it is currently tough for the PAC to get the ball rolling because the office is far from us. But we will now overcome that,” Malebo said.
“It also resembled an office under a minister; there was no notable difference between it and other government offices.”