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United Kingdom wants independence of Auditor General safeguarded

The United Kingdom has raised concern over the issue of independence of the office of Auditor General (AG), citing the involvement of the President in appointing the AG.

UK further says it is not comfortable with the arrangement that the AG should be reporting to the President instead of Parliament.

New British High Commissioner to Malawi, Holly Tett, made the remarks in the wake of the National Audit Bill, which proposes a Constitutional amendment to improve financial independence of the AG’s office.

But members of Parliament wonder why government cannot make Constitutional amendments to ensure the AG reports directly to Parliament, and not via the Ministry of Finance. They also propose that the President should not be responsible for removing the AG, as such decisions may be made to advance political interests.

“The UK believes that a strong and independent Office of the Auditor General is critical

for improving integrity in the management of public finances. With the revision of the Public Audit Act, Malawi has an opportunity to bring the Office in line with international standards. Two areas we think worthy of attention are; how the Auditor General is appointed orcan be removed with an emphasis on ‘Security of Tenure’ and whether the Auditor General reports directly to Parliament,” Tett said.

She adds: “The UK has responded to requests from the Government of Malawi to provide technical assistance to strengthen the capacity of a range of ministries, departments and agencies, including the Office of the Auditor General. This is a normal part of our development assistance.”

Tett said the UK has previously demonstrated lack of confidence in the Office of Auditor General by supporting forensic audits by outside firms such as Baker Tilly in 2013.

“At present, the law fails to inspire confidence. Cashgate happened due to the failings of the office of the AG,” she said.

The amendment, which aims at enhancing the independence and functional operation of the National Audit Office (NAO), covers topics such as: clarification on the required qualification of the Auditor General; right of the Auditor General, in consultation with the Civil Service Commission, to appoint/promote/ discipline his own staff; obligation to publish every report relating to audit in the Gazette and website of the NAO.

But the amendment is silent on the appointment/removal of the AG, which rests in the President; the contradiction concerning the submission of annual audit reports.

Some donors observe that, although the proposed amendments constitute improvements to the bill, particularly the publication of audits on the website, it is disappointing to note that key elements to enhance the independence of the NAO office have not been included.

For example, they observe that that there have been discussions to submit the annual audit report in parallel to the Minister of Finance and the Parliament, which they say, would not infringe on the constitution, “but preferably this contradiction should have been resolved with the amendment”.

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