Less than perfect
31 July, 2017, 12:00 am
The comments of the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Mr Sudhakar, as reported in last week’s newspapers, suggest that he has a limited grasp of the role of the Auditor-General under the Constitution.
I believe Fiji’s Constitution is far from perfect but it is clear that the Auditor-General is the holder of a constitutional office, above political interference or control. He is the people’s auditor and he reports to the people by reporting to Parliament.
The Government collects hundreds of millions of dollars every year in taxes. It has a responsibility to spend that money efficiently and lawfully. It is the Auditor-General’s job to report how well the Government has done that.
The Auditor-General checks on the Government’s financial performance. His staff review the records. They question the relevant departments on things that have gone wrong.
They note the departments’ explanations. This is what the Auditor-General reports to Parliament.
This is what the people are entitled to hear about, without interference from government politicians. That is what the news media is entitled to report. This is what the media should report, if it is performing its job of keeping the public informed.
It is wrong to suggest that the process is incomplete until the Public Accounts Committee has considered the report.
Public Accounts Committee meetings allow the people’s representatives — Parliamentarians — to ask the Government departments more questions about what is in the Auditor-General’s report. The Committee does not sit in judgment. It does not issue rulings. It may issue a report, but in truth few people read that. A clever politician who sits on the Committee will also try to use Committee hearings for a bit of politicking for his or her side, but that of course is no crime.
No Government, whatever its political stripe, is perfect in the way it spends and accounts for money.
Government is a complicated business. Like every business, some things will go wrong.
The people are entitled to know what has gone wrong. That is part of transparency and accountability in a democratic country.
The current government’s politicians need to accept that their government, too, is not perfect, and the Auditor-General’s report is a way to help their government improve its accountability to the people.
The Auditor-General is saying that the government is less than perfect. To attack the news media for reporting that suggests self-delusion and paranoia.