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Fixing public accounts


Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Thursday, 21 June 2018 00:00


Governments are run by public money, which is mostly earned through taxes, which is why efficient management of State institutions and departments is an integral part of public trust. However, Sri Lanka’s track record in this department is disappointing and indications are that even three years after this Government came into power little has changed.    

Over half of the 51 ministries have botched their financial management as well as annual performance, according to the latest report by the Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) tabled in Parliament on Tuesday. The COPA report was tabled by its Chairman, Finance and Mass Media Deputy Minister Lasantha Alagiyawanna. The report assessed the financial management and performance of 837 State institutions for the 2016 financial year.

COPA found that 26 ministries had failed to update their registries on fixed assets while 40 ministries had not settled balances of advanced accounts for more than a year and 28 ministries had been given notice for not compiling the annual board of survey reports. The report states that there is an outstanding unsettled loan in the advance account for over a year at the Auditor General’s Department. 

Several other institutions with significant responsibility including the Presidential Secretariat and the Prime Minister’s office had also fallen short by failing to maintain updated fixed assets, clear required deposits or respond to queries by the Auditor General’s Department.    

With regard to the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption, the report says that CIABOC had not held three audit management committee meetings and not carried out a Board of Survey report on the stipulated dates for 2016.

As per the report, the COPA had found that Parliament had not maintained an up to date register on fixed assets such as a fixed assets register on computer accessories and software. The inventory register, stock book and losses register too had not been maintained and updated. The Annual Action Plan for Parliament had not been formulated. Parliament had also failed to respond to all queries by the Auditor General’s Department within the given period of one month. 

All this points to a lackadaisical attitude regarding public accounts. One of the critical efforts of this Government has been to increase public revenue, ostensibly to increase budget allocations to education, healthcare and housing but a tax paying public needs to know that their representatives care about their effort enough to put their own house in order. Limited compliance does not improve confidence and without public trust there will continue to be resentment every time the Government adjusts tax rates. 

In addition if key public institutions such as parliament, the Presidential Secretariat and Prime Minister’s office as well as ministries do not lead the way in better governance there will be little incentive for the rest of the State machinery to follow. Each of these ministries are in charge of dozens of important State institutions, companies, departments and organisations that handle public funds. If watertight public accounting and auditing is optional then there will be more opportunity for mismanagement, wastage and corruption to seep into the system. In many ways good governance is about little things down right to make a big impact.


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