Meles Zenawi's Assault on the Auditors General

Addis Fortune
"In mid-June, the Auditor General, Lemma Argaw, presented his most explosive and controversial 30-page report to Parliament in which he alleged a 4.8 billion Br
fund channeled to the regional states in 2003/04 remains unaccounted to date. It
is just one piece of tens of millions of Birr funneled to the regions but spent
in a breach of a standard accounting procedure, according to the report. Regions
such as Somali, Afar and Southern Nations Nationalities and People, were cited
as champions of this alleged misappropriation.
Alas, Meles did not mince his words when he told a dumbfounded, although subdued House, that regional administrations had the authority that could go as far as burning the money they received as subsidies from the federal government, if there was to be an article in their constitution allowing for that to happen. Although speaking
metaphorically, his utterance was a shocker to many who followed the proceeding
on a live TV.
Meles accused the Auditor General of two cardinal sins: being a breach of constitutional rules and unethical. He argued that the Auditor General has no business auditing the expenditure of regional governments that have the constitutional right to spend their money the way they want to. He said that when it comes to auditing they have their own regional auditing offices to take care of the job. He wants the Office to register to subsidies as a federal expense but stop its power short of meddling in their internal affairs.
Of course, underneath this argument lies a fundamental ideological issue the Prime
Minister was observed passionate in explaining: the source of power for the
federal government and how autonomous the regional states are in the federal
arrangement to which he has dedicated his life. He is of the view that power has
been delegated to the federal government by the regions and it is not the other
way round.
Aside from the ideological debate on whether the central or federal state structure is the best form of a government, it is very difficult to buy the Prime Minister’s argument entirely. First and foremost, it is indeed an international practice for federal governments to audit states on grants and subsidies they provide.
The United States Department of Health and Human Services, a federal agency, had conducted an audit on the accounts of the New York State after series of stories were published on the New York Times alleging that 93 million dollars of federal funds for fraud prevention were unchecked. That seems why the Auditor General responded in its report to Parliament that auditors do not have jurisdiction is oblivious not only to the state finance administration proclamation number 17/1989, article 79, but also in violation of an internationally accepted accounting standard.
It is true that under the Constitution the regional administrations have indeed financial autonomy on revenues they generate from their own sources. But it is also the authority of the Auditor General’s Office, under the Article 98 number 2 of the
Constitution, to oversee the expenditure of grants and subsidies made by the federal government to the regions.
Although nominated by the Prime Minister, the Auditor General is ratified by Parliament, to whom it is accountable. It is mandated to report to legislators irrespective of what the executive branch may think of the nature of its report. What apparently appears to anger the Prime Minister might be the fact that the Auditor General allegedly submitted its report to the House and Prime Minister’s Office without first taking it to the respective audited ministries to seek their opinions. He alleged that the concerned ministries were not given the opportunity to go through the results of the auditing and that was a serious breach of ethical conduct in his eyes.
Well, referring to the Constitution in which the Prime Minister believes so
zealously, the Auditor General, whenever he feels that crime has been committed
over financial irregularities, has the authority to report them to Parliament.
What is more important in the harsh criticism directed by the executive
branch against the Auditor General is rather its implication to others in the
administration and the regional states. As a state institution with clear
constitutional authority, the Auditor General should command respect from the
executive branch of a government, particularly in a country with a history of
huge, all too powerful, intrusive and repressive governments.
The chief executive should have looked at the matter in a calm or unemotional way, instead of barraging such an important institution in public. Auditor Generals, in this
case a near-retiree, come and go but the Office is bound to stay as an institution with important roles to play in the accountability and integrity culture of the nation.
The way the Prime Minster has dealt with the Auditor General’s Office was not statesman like, to say the least. It certainly will have a damaging impact in the long run because its integrity, neutrality and credibility have fallen under assault in public. Now, it may take years to find a replacement to Lemma Argaw with the courage to produce a report that could make the Prime Minister furious."

posted by Ethiounited Moderator at12:18 AM


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