SRI LANKA: Auditor General under attack

While the incident of two Supreme Court judges resigning on the basis of matters of conscience is still very much a part of the public debate, the Auditor General of Sri Lanka has now also come under attack by the government. 

The attacks have come in response to several critical reports published by the Auditor General recently regarding the financial management of state institutions. The Secretary to the Treasury has publicly criticised the AG about his reporting of the public sector. In a statement made by Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL), the anti-corruption group reminded the Secretary that “the primary duty of a legislative and constitutional auditor is to make a critical evaluation of the public sector without fear or favour and without interference from the public servants however high they may be”. The group has also written to Sri Lankan President Rajapakse, complaining of the Secretary’s negative approach towards the legal functioning of the Auditor General. 

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) concurs with the substance of TISL’s letter to President Rajapakse, dated March 21, 2006 and calls upon the President and the government to take appropriate measures allowing for the AG to function in the manner required by the Constitutional Council. The letter by TISL is reproduced below.

“Your Excellency’s attention is respectfully drawn to the lead news story of Sunday Lankadeepa dated 19th March 2006. The said news item reveals the negative attitude of the Secretary to the Treasury towards the execution of lawful functions of the Auditor General. A copy of the relevant newspaper item is attached herewith for Your Excellency’s easy reference.

The Auditor General discharges the Constitutional audit functions. Undoubtedly, his administrative, functional and financial independence is vital for any democracy that values financial integrity. The role of the Auditor General is to audit all the public institutions and frankly evaluate the performance of the public sector. As Your Excellence is already aware, following the global best practices, the government of Sri Lanka has been trying for the last four years to make the Auditor General’s office more independent and also to make it an integral part of the legislative branch. The draft Audit Act is also being prepared to meet this objective.

It is also considered view that the Auditor General is now taking all possible steps to execute an effective audit mechanism in keeping with international standards. In countries with the highest standards of financial accountability and transparency, the Auditor General is considered the key whistle blower. Public institutions in such countries welcome audits and evaluations of the Auditor General, in order to make respective institutions or the sector more effective. The chief financial officers, the Secretaries of Ministries and all public officers are expected to consider the observations of the Auditor General seriously and not in a confrontational manner.

In our view, there is no justification for the Secretary to view the Auditor General’s criticism “as discouraging the public sector”. No public officer, senior or junior, is expected to take Auditor General’s observation as a challenge, if the public sector is to be effective and transparent. Further any unconstitutional and adverse moves against the Auditor General are globally seen as interference with the lawful functions of the legislative auditor.

We have no doubt that Your Excellency appreciates the far reaching and adverse consequences of the continuation of such moves, which will ultimately be viewed as a black mark on the creditability of Your Excellency’s entire government. In these circumstances, we request Your Excellency to take suitable steps to prevent any further moves that have the effect of undermining both independence of the Auditor General as well as the credibility of the entire government.”

The AHRC is gravely concerned by this situation, which is made worse by the fact that the constitutional bodies created under the 17th Amendment, including the Constitutional Council, are still non-functional due to the failure to appoint its members. 

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-047-2006
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Administration of justice,