Govt must act on reports

Editorial, Normal

IF the Government fails to act on the reports of the Auditor-General and the Public Accounts Committee into the operations of various departments, then we must ask the question whether the two organisations ought to exist at all.
Indeed, we must ask whether there ought to be any accountability mechanism in government.
Year in and year out these two bodies, but especially the Auditor-General, have dutifully followed their constitutional obligations to report on the public accounts of every Government department and agency in the country.
Every year, instances of gross misuse and mismanagement of funds, of flagrant disregard for the law, of unlawful application of public funds, and corruptive behaviour have been revealed.
Each report has contained recommendations on corrective procedures and referrals have been made of particular instances where criminal behaviour has occurred.
We have no knowledge of whether or not the recommendations are taken on board but we are certain that no referral has been taken up by the relevant authorities such as the fraud squad.
Yesterday, we reported on the front page the appalling state of accountability that attends the Department of National Planning and Monitoring.
In the words of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) this central agency, charged with managing the country’s K3.4 billion development budget and over K180 million of district services improvement programme through the Office of Rural Development is “incompetent and unable to manage its own budget”.
How then can it manage the K3.4 billion, you ask?
The situation appears to have prevailed for years. Indeed, the PAC made its findings on the state of affairs at the department in a report to Parliament in 2006.
The same Government was in office.
Now the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Sam Abal wants to introduce the much-talked-about-and-never-actioned anti-corruption bill in Parliament.
What good will another law do, we ask, when existing laws, rules and procedures are not even followed?
We go further to ask whether any Member of Parliament has ever read the Auditor-General’s reports and those of the Public Account Committee’s that they get an exclusive first copy of when the reports come out?
It just defies understanding that somebody should read what is contained in these reports and fail to take action.
During Parliamentary debates, for instance, MPs speak in generic terms about corruption when specific instances are there right before them or in their offices.
Every week, we have been reporting PAC reports into the Lands Department, into the Office of the Public Curator and into the operations of the Sepik Highways, Roads, Bridges Maintenance and Other Infrastructure Trust Fund.
In each report, there have been shocking accounts of flagrant breaches of the Public Finances Management Act, of sheer neglect, and downright theft.
We have no evidence so far of the Government taking any action on that.
The PAC said of the Lands Department: “The committee considers that the Department of Lands is the most crucial agency in the planned and progressive building of the national economy and social development.
“The department has declined over the last 10 years to a point where it cannot manage even simple statutory functions – such as collecting Land Rent. 
“The department is held in low esteem and it is clear to the committee that corruption and criminal collusion by senior managers is an accepted incident of the department’s functioning.
“The committee considers that this departmental disintegration is a matter of national importance in that economic progress and improvement is retarded by the department.”
Are these just empty words employed by an agency that needs to make these reports for its own survival?
Is it a joke?
Why cannot, the Government take any corrective action?
More particularly whose role is it to take such corrective action when the entire government system seems riddled with this sickness?
The National believes that the work of the Auditor-General and the Public Accounts Committee is central to good governance.
This country will not be able to achieve good governance until and unless it takes serious recognition of the work and the recommendations of these two organisations.