KATHMANDU, April 3: The 55th audit report of all public offices scheduled to be published next week will have major changes compared to the 54th report of last year. However, what will be lacking will be issue-based reporting.
Such reporting was started last year as a major reform for making the report more readable, summarizing the financial health of public offices and allowing parliament's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to take more policy decisions instead of taking a peace-meal approach on matters of outstanding dues.
PAC is parliament's authorized body for reviewing the reports of the Office of the Auditor General (OAG) and it can also settle outstanding dues as well as decide the amounts to be recovered and several other issues raised in the audit report.
OAG also has no plan to publish separate district-wise reports, unlike in the 54th report. Erstwhile acting auditor general Sukdev Khatri Bhattarai had published an issue-wise summary report which was handed over the to president as well as separate district-wise reports and ministry-wise reports made public in the OAG website in April last year.
“We will publish a ministry-wise report and there won't be any issue-based separate report. Instead of districts we have gone for the 753 local units in our audit and for separate reports for each province,” said Uddhav Chandra Shrestha, spokesperson at OAG.
PAC's full committee cannot handle all the ministry-wise reports and a subcommittee, which is a small team of lawmakers, is given the role of reviewing the audit report.
The collusion begins here. A team of lawmakers along with the secretaries and ministers of the ministries concerned settle arrears and misappropriations and take other peace-meal decisions which contradict each other.
Sources claim that lawmakers are unhappy with last year's issued-based report and have lobbied for the ministry-wise format. Auditor General Tanka Mani Sharma, however, denied the presence of any such lobby or pressure from lawmakers. “We have been preparing to publish ministry-wise reports, changing over from issue-based, for making the ministries more responsible,” he claimed .
OAG had started issue-based reporting, realizing that past reports were not effective. But the practice has been dropped even before the latest report has been reviewed by PAC. PAC has not yet started reviewing the 54th audit report and the reports of several individual ministries remaining to be reviewed since 2011.
Besides initiating issue-based reporting, last year's report had also determined that Ncell should pay capital gains tax, ending months-long debate whether the buyout deal of one of the largest telecommunications entities was taxable. The report also also fingered massive embezzlement in the decision of the Tax Settlement Commission, among other things.
Auditor General Sharma in July last year informed PAC that the OAG office would name the head of a public office who had financial arrears and was involved in other financial indiscipline, in the next annual report. However, Sharma has not kept his word. Talking to Republica Monday, Sharma said that naming will take place only in the initial reports distributed to the agencies, ministries and departments concerned but not in the main report submitted to the president. OAG is preparing to submit the report to President Bidya Devi Bhandari on April 12.
Former acting auditor general Sukdev Bhattarai Khatri said that under international standards auditing should be carried out with issued based reporting and there should be a risk-oriented focus. “A risk-based Audit Guideline prepared with the technical cooperation of Norway's Auditor General and the International Supreme Audit Institution has clearly stated the need to carry out only risk-based auditing and that reporting should be made issue-wise rather than ministry-wise for allowing PAC to review the report properly,” added Khatri.