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Where is our auditor general?

We urgently need an auditor general to improve public sector governance – something the PM recently called for

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By Kanason Pothinker

How many of us know we do not have an auditor general in place now to plan, audit and report on how taxpayers’ money is used?

The last auditor general, Nik Azman Nik Abdul Majid, vacated office on 23 February 2023. The position has not yet been filled.

There will be less or no governance if the post of auditor general is left vacant!

To his great credit, the prime minister, from the beginning of his term of office, has often spoken about the importance of governance in the public sector – to improve financial management, slash wasteful expenditure, reduce corruption and get the best value for money in all its undertakings.  

Nearly all definitions of governance highlight the importance of the audit function, which forms the bedrock of integrity, efficiency and effectiveness in the public sector.

The PM has even put together a committee of professionals, headed by Hassan Marican, to advise him on finance and the economy.

The auditor general is supposed to lead the audit function in the public sector.  As long as this position remains vacant, as it is in Malaysia now (as of 13 March), public sector governance is greatly weakened.

I suggest that the Hassan Marican committee set up by the prime minister treat this vacancy as an urgent matter to be rectified quickly. Otherwise, good governance procedures and practices will not be in place, probably resulting in even more public funds being lost.

If the position remains vacant, audit reports from the auditor general will not be forthcoming. The government, Parliament and, most importantly, taxpayers will not know whether their taxes have been used as budgeted – without losses, waste and abuse of public funds.

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Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee should also be concerned about the vacancy in the auditor general’s post as the PAC relies on the auditor general’s reports for its deliberations.

The filling of this constitutional position will require the consent of all the rulers and the prime minister. The appointment will be made by the King.

Perhaps the appointment of a new auditor general is already in process, but any delay should have been avoided. The choice or selection will take time, and the process of selection should have begun months ago! The civil service should not let the PM down with further delays.

Another important issue is that the auditor general is initially appointed for two years and reappointed for another two-year period or for subsequent periods.

We will not have good governance in the public sector if the position of auditor general is left vacant. The auditor general is the topmost authority charged with forming ”an opinion as to whether a department of government … a ministry or an authority has used its resources with economy, efficiency and effectiveness”.

In the past two years, the auditor general has continually reported on compliance failures that have resulted in losses, abuses, waste and ineffective use of government resources. If the position remains unfilled, the goal of good governance envisaged by the PM will be defeated.

Another suggestion: the auditor general should be appointed for fixed periods of five, six or even 10 years, as in other Commonwealth countries.

The practice of appointing the auditor general for brief two-year periods does not allow him or her an appropriate timeframe to work with confidence, to plan longer-term audit programmes and to make reports without fear or favour.

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The delay in the appointment of a new auditor general does not reflect well on the government, more so on the PM.

Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim should not fail, as the country itself cannot afford to fail. He needs no reminding of his alma mater’s motto: ”Accomplish or do not begin.”

Kanason Pothinker, an Aliran member, is a former assistant auditor general of Malaysia, who was directly responsible to the auditor general for the planning, audit and reporting on all statutory bodies, both at federal and state levels. After a career spanning 33 years from 1959 to 1992, he headed a team in 2005-2006 to review financial management policies and procedures in the public sector

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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Paul Lim
Paul Lim
19 Mar 2023 5.02am

Any government in the world will have an Auditor General to look at public spending isn’t it? Not Malaysia recently???

Gursharan Singh
Gursharan Singh
14 Mar 2023 8.49pm

Former Auditor General TSA Noordin said that Auditors do their job and report cases of suspected mismanagrment of public funds and assets and it is the responsibility of Executive to take appropriate action against those responsible and then review existing procedures and internal controls for prevention repeats The Aud Gen has been highlighting cases of mismanagemen for decades but little improvment.
Thus it may be perceived that the Political leadership and Executive may have failed. Unfortunately the perception is that the Auditor has failed but Auditor is not allowed to defend ss power limited to Reporting only. Common in most countries. Society and Media also fail for not highlighting repeatedly.
Bless all

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