Eritrea: Ensuring Accountable Institutional Management

Conflict of interest arises when capable rich people start to establish institutions that multiply their capital and have to hire employees to oversee matters they may not be able to tend to. In such cases, there needs to be check and balance so that neither side is at a disadvantage. Auditing is the right practice to settle such clashes.

Auditing promotes clarity and confidence among employees and business owners. It helps the coworkers to have trust among each other and that indirectly helps in the smooth functioning of organizations.

The Office of the Auditor General in Eritrea was founded in 1992 to have as its main function, like in many other countries, auditing all governmental institutions and presenting the results to the concerned bodies. With time, it has acquired certain transitions into its purpose and operation. For example, it has broadened its functions to an office that restructured its tasks into auditing all government accounts, labeling the framework and grades of auditing, advising the Ministry of Finance on financial laws, probing embezzlement and other financial crimes and giving accredited certificate of qualification to accounting experts.

The functional structure of the Auditor General's office was drafted and upgraded to fit in the narratives that the sophistication in the field, regionally and internationally, demanded. Broadly, it has established a corporation of audit service, and some authorized private auditors were given space to audit service- giving government enterprises.

The Auditor General's office began its operations with only 34 employees. It worked to develop its human resources. In 1998, due to the war with Ethiopia, the employees, like many Eritreans, had to go for a national duty to defend their country. When the situation calmed down, they joined the workforce at the office. Currently, there are 139 employees, including the administration, finance and IT personnel.

Though the system has a wide gap to fill, the office has been working to empower its employees by organizing domestic and international training. Mr. Gherezgiher Ghebremedhin, the Auditor General, said, "Our manpower is our sole capital. If we can't develop this capacity, the service that we provide will not persist." For this reason the auditor's office strives to keep in shape not only its employees but all accountants who work in governmental and private organizations. The office has been giving training that focuses on internal audit to employees from different organizations.

The auditor's office is stretching its function to the deepest roots of all institutions. This is not only in terms of quantity but also quality and the type of auditing service given to the institutions. For example, until 2019, only financial and compliance audit were commonly practiced in Eritrea but in 2019 performance audit was introduced.

Most of the time, auditing is done annually unless there is an urgent accounting matter that needs real-time audit. However, given that there is lack of sufficient man power in the system, the auditor's office gives priority to institutions with big budget and those that have complicated accounting systems. The rest are attended to in an interval of 3-4 years.

In Eritrea, embezzlement is relatively uncommon but we cannot say there are not insufficiencies in managing government property and documents. Providing organizations with ideas to reconstruct internal control system in a way that would curtail such mismanagement and embezzlement is one of the tasks that the auditor's office is persistently working on.

In our country, internal auditing is not a new concept. But external audit was a bit of a strain and not many business owners practiced it. In the past 30 years, the auditor's office has been working to inform people of the benefits of auditing and managed to encourage its practice in many. "We try to eliminate the mentality that our inspection is a danger sign to a business. Instead, we promote that the office of auditor general is a cleansing agent to any business toxicity," Mr. Gherezgiher said.

In its 29 years of auditing the office of Auditors General has been challenged by many factors. The biggest downside is lack of manpower. Until now, the office has managed to acquire only one third of the minimum manpower requirement for the smooth functioning of the auditing service. According to Mr. Gherezgiher, budget insufficiency is in part another challenge to the work of auditing in addition to weak accounting and property management of clients and inability to conserve the professional manpower of the General Auditor.

In trying to carry out the hectic work of auditing, the office of auditor general cooperates with national and international stakeholders and organizations. Internally, it has close work relations with the Ministry Of Finance, the President's office, law firms, private auditors and the Ministry of Information for information and agitation. In addition, the office works with other international organizations that help with setting standards of auditing and training. To tackle its manpower problems, the auditor general cooperates with the National Board for Higher Education and Research Institutions and the relevant departments in the colleges.

Regarding its prospects, the Office of Auditor General issued a 4- year strategic plan covering the period 2019-2023. The first task is to complete the undertaking as planned which is soon to be followed by restructuring the systematic format of the audit office and pushing towards giving further training and applying new genres of auditing to catch up with the emerging developments in audit. Moreover, the office plans to digitalize its documents and computerize its functions so as to reduce the time and energy exerted and provide efficient service to the government and the people. "Finally, strengthening our relations with the stakeholders and regional and international audit organizations is a contributing factor to all the other plans that we have at hand,' Mr. Gherezgiher said.

The office of the auditor general is one of the most vital organs of the government and is playing a big role in informing people and ensuring accountable institutional management at all levels of business.

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