The auditor general of the National Audit Office (NAO) has told members of the Public Accounts and Public Enterprises Committees (PAC/PEC) of the National Assembly that his institution has been facing many challenges confronting its smooth operation, pointing out retention of professional staff as a major problem.
Speaking recently while tabling his institution's annual activity report for the year 2012, Karamba Touray disclosed that currently, a total of 28 vacancies are available at the Office. Fifteen of these, he said, are to be filled by qualified personnel whilst 13 are reserved for the recruitment of new intakes. But he lamented that the vacancies have hampered the effective operations of the country's Audit Office.
"Three of the four directors of Audit posts are vacant, which is a particular problem for me because these should have been the key people to assist in planning and overseeing the work of the National Audit Office," he stressed. Touray also highlighted the responsibilities of the auditor general, informing members that it has a role to provide independence assurance to the National Assembly that public sector entities are operating fairly, appropriately and that their financial statements are complete and accurate.
"Regular audited financial statements are a very key element of good accountability and transparency in government," he said.
Touray also informed of the numerous capacity building initiatives of the Office, including international training, mostly organised and partly sponsored by AFRASAL-E. He continued: "External training has also been provided by the African Development Bank (AfDB) in the areas of International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS) and Performance Audit. The AfDB had also provided sponsorship to staff on professional accountancy training programmes such as AAT, CAT and ACCA at the Management Development Institute (MD) and other private tuition providers in the country." The auditor general also acknowledged the support provided by the government in the capacity development of the Office's staff, indicating that it is currently sponsoring some of them who are pursuing their degree programmes in accountancy at the University of The Gambia (UTG). "Two have completed whilst other 12 others are still on their programmes," he further informed.
On other areas, he reminded members that the constitution of the Republic of The Gambia has given his institution a very wide mandate. Given the wide mandate by the constitution and the significant advances made in the public management reforms as well as the increasing automation of government financial transaction, Touray stressed the need to urgently abrogate the audit part of the Finance and Audit Act and replace it with Audit Act that meets the requirements of the constitution.
Enriching the knowledge of the members about the in depth process of audit, the auditor general explained that each year, programmes are prepared specifying the audit work to be carried out during the year. Audits, he added, are conducted in a manner that endeavours to display the highest degree of objectivity, accuracy and compliance with professional standards.
"As part of the Audit process, my staff carry out inspection visits to departments and other public bodies. These visits are frequent [during which] the staff examine financial transactions of government institutions, control systems and project accounts," he further enlightened.
Touray also lamented as a major problem, the lack of sufficient vehicles at his institution to visit government institutions in the provinces. Such a status quo, he bemoaned, has affected smooth service delivery at the office.
The National Assembly member for Basse, Hon. Muhammed Maggasy, was concerned over the problem of staff recruitment and retention, challenging the National Audit Office to do something about this status quo.
Hon. Lamin K. Jammeh of Illiassa, and Alhagie Sillah of Banjul North, both reacted to the report before it got the approval of the members.