Salary of Auditor General under fire in the House

Friday, 12 July 2013 05:05 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Ashwin Hemmathagama Our Lobby Correspondent Parliament on Wednesday determined and approved Rs. 48,940 as the salary of H.A.S. Samaraweera, the incumbent Auditor-General appointed on 15 August 2011. With this approval the Auditor-General continues to enjoy the salary scale SL-4-2006 in addition to other allowances relevant to the post and annual salary increments specified in the scale. According to Minister of Environment and Renewable Energy Susil Premajayanth, the Auditor General’s salary has to be decided by the Parliament in line with Article 152 of the Constitution. “The Salaries Commission and the Establishment Code has recommended keeping his salary at Rs. 48,940 on top of the other allowances and with an annual salary increment. Article 154 (1) describes the authority held by Auditor General to audit all accounts of the Government departments and all other State establishments. His audit reports are considered at Committee on Public Accounts and the Committee on Public Enterprises of this house. Currently a report on 252 State enterprises are being prepared and will soon be tabled,” said Minister Premajayanth. However, UNP MP Ravi Karunanayake identified the salary of Rs. 48,940 an insult to a hardworking important Government servant where his equals in the private sector enjoying higher salaries over Rs. 700,000. “Unless you pay him a decent salary adequate to meet today’s expenses, it will be a place where irregularities will start. Prabhakaran who failed to destroy our economy was succeeded by the Mahinda Rajapaksa Government. There is no law and order in the country. It has gone to the extent where senior Police officers are killing people for money. You are allowing illegal night clubs and casinos to operate. Not only that, the Auditor General has lost his impartiality.” “Recently the Government took over seven toilets in Colombo City. Subsequently these toilets were refurbished and developed in style. Is this the development in this country? Krrish was brought here and there was a due payment, which was not settled as agreed. So this is something the Auditor General has to inquire into. The Government has the habit of starting problems with international communities and other Governments. The fiscal target has gone up by Rs. 13 million while expenses have also increased by 2.5%. If you were capable of removing the Chief Justice within a few hours, why not remove the economic hitmen? Moody’s has downgraded our ratings. It is high time the Government rectifies its mistakes,” said Karunanayake. Joining the debate UNP MP Eran Wickramaratne highlighted the country’s movement towards the “ungovernability” judged by the crime wave reported in the media. “The main source of ungovernability appears to be politicians and their close associates and extremist who do not permit the State and the Police to uphold the law impartially. The acceleration of the breakdown in the law and order situation can be partly attributed to the abolition of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution. “There has been a functional Auditor General since 1799. In 1921 the Legislative Council resolved to constitute a Standing Committee on Public Accounts. At independence in 1948 a fully-fledged Public Accounts Committee was set up. A separate Committee on Public Enterprises was established by Parliament on 23 March 1979. Sri Lanka has a long tradition of Parliamentary supervision of finance. The Auditor General is the key official assisting Parliament on matters of financial governance. Article 148 of the Constitution states that ‘Parliament shall have full control over public finances’. Article 153 recognises the constitutional position of the Auditor General and defines his duties and functions. The salary of the Auditor General has to be determined by Parliament. The position of the Auditor General is a constitutional position responsible to Parliament similar to that of the Chief Justice. The Government has undermined that independence through the abolition of the 17th Amendment. Parliament abdicating its responsibility in proposing the salary revision for the Auditor General will further contribute to the increasing dominance of the Executive over the Legislature,” said MP Wickramaratne. According to him, at least three other officials in the Auditor General’s Department receive emoluments that are higher than the Auditor General. “Such anomalies arise due to improper referencing of the Auditor General to non-Constitutional officials. The dignity of the office of the Auditor General has been devalued. As has been exposed in previous COPE reports and in the report that will be tabled in Parliament later this month, there is waste, fraud and corruption on an unprecedented scale. Then there are losses in Government institutions which are affecting the fiscal position of the Government. The most recent case referred to the CID is that of the import of contaminated fuel by the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation. The losses will run into billions of rupees. These are corrupt deals. “The corruption in the import of medical supplies for the Ministry of Health has gone on for several years. The Minister of Health has admitted in this House that there is a mafia defrauding the patients and the country. The scale of corruption on the purchase of some items is not 25% to 30% but 200% to 300% as in the case of medical and surgical gloves. The Auditor General is the prime official who advises Parliament not only on the financials but also on performance and unearths cheating, fraud and corruption. How could the key constitutional official probing finance be independent and free on a Rs. 40,000 salary?” said MP Wickramaratne, seeking support from Parliament to reject this inadequate salary proposal.