'Parastatals audit a nightmare'

HARARE - Internal government auditors, who are charged with ensuring public money is spent properly, say auditing the public service is a nightmare.

The secretary for corporate governance unit in the Office of the President and Cabinet Stuart Comberbach said he was aware of government employees’ concerns, which include lack of weight given to their auditing work by management in State entities.

“I know that there has been some disappointments expressed by internal auditors deployed within the public entity sector that the legislation does not accord open recognition to the important role played by internal audit and the critical early warning function their day to day monitoring of management’s use of State resources plays in detecting possible misdeeds, alerting senior management to such anomalies and stopping or preventing possible abuse and corruption in its early stages,” he said at the Institute of Internal Auditors meeting held in the capital last week.

“I know also that, more generally, internal audit is unhappy and justifiably so with the lack of weight given by management to their work and the fact that, generally, internal auditors are relatively low-placed in the overall management structures at our public entities.”

This comes as economic analysts have warned that many of the scandals and acts of financial impropriety that are uncovered almost on a daily basis in respect of government departments, could have been avoided had there been in place strong and effective internal audit departments staffed by professional and competent auditors with appropriate reporting lines.

“I am not sure why this should be so. I find it unfortunate. And I find management’s tendency to accord greater weight and attention to the annual visitation by external audit somewhat short-sighted and even risky,” Comberbach said.

Government has since set up independent audit committees in State entities and line ministries to provide checks and balances on corporate governance and review internal financial controls and risk management systems, as part of the migration to accrual accounting for government and State-owned enterprises.

The committees are expected to help government meet taxpayers’ demands for transparency and accountability by providing oversight in governance, risk management and internal control practices.

Comberbach highlighted that there was need to migrate towards adoption of an accrual-based reporting framework to ensure greater transparency and accountability in “how government records, reports utilise the wealth of financial data it receives and processes at any given time”.

Government, which has been using a cash accounting system, has roped in the Public Accountants and Auditors Board (PAAB) to help in implementing the plan. — The Financial Gazette