Empower Auditor General’s office for more probity
The efficient management of public funds has always been of interest to Kenyans. This interest spans from how taxes are collected, shared and utilised.
The availability of this information has been bolstered by the 2010 Constitution which demands that citizens be involved in the budgeting process while the government is proactive in providing the structures and relevant frameworks for the management of public finances.
It is based on this premise that the Constitution also provides for the office of the Auditor General, who is mandated to audit public bodies and report on management of funds.
Edward Ouko has held the position for the last eight years, a period that has been characterised by challenges and successes in equal measure.
As he leaves office, his legacy as the first auditor general under the current constitutional dispensation is also receiving mixed reactions. To some, he did an excellent job while to others, he performed below par.
For instance, he is credited for giving prompt and reliable reports of all national and county offices on management public funds.
Most of these reports have been marred by controversy largely, because of the damning findings of loss and blatant theft of public funds.
Naturally, politicians and other leaders implicated in those documents have been left with a sour taste in their mouths even as their constituents praise the processes undertaken to expose malfeasance.
Ouko is also deemed to have worked over a period with increased revenue, which looked at positively, demanded for more efficient office and staff.
This is despite the fact that the office did not have the requisite budget to cover the auditing of all national and county offices. He managed to deliver nevertheless, by leveraging on networks and technologies to deliver.
His challenges, however, stemmed from what his detractors feel was his office’s inability to bite. The reports produced achieved very little beyond publicity in the media.
Their unceremonious reception both in the public and private spaces meant they were more of routine publications as opposed to critical governance tools.
The existing legal and infrastructural frameworks have contributed to this state of affairs. For instance, the audit reports are presented to various Parliament committees for deliberations.
Their findings are presented a plenary in Parliament. On various occasions, the Auditor General’s reports have been watered down or politicised.
Those found to be touching on sensitive political issues or implicating members friends and partners are oftentimes rubbished and cast aside.
In worst cases, the heat has been turned on Ouko, sometimes with threats of ouster.
It is this bureaucracy that has, and will continue to stifle the office of the Auditor General.
In jurisdictions such as South Africa, audit reports are final and the office has the powers to directly make recommendations to a public body on matters transparency and accountability.
In the event that such recommendations are not implemented, the auditor general has powers to refer a suspected irregularity to an investigative and prosecutorial body for further action.
If we are to borrow from such progressive practices, then it is important that we overhaul the linkages between the auditor general and other accountability institutions, including EACC, Judiciary the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Judiciary and the Director of Criminal Investigations.
It is only then, that future audit reports will adequately serve the purpose for which they are designed; to promote transparent and accountable financial management and governance. The writer comments on governance issues