THE Office of the Auditor General has expressed concern over the failure by public servants to comply with the relevant laws that govern the use of public funds, saying this militated against efforts to ensure that public funds were fully accounted for.
Speaking at a recent media workshop, the office’s principal director, Liello Mamanti Matekane, said the country faced serious challenges stemming from the failure to comply with the legal frameworks that were put in place to administer its financials. The workshop was held in Maseru to sensitise the media about the operations of the office of the auditor general.
Ms Matekane cited the allocation of M123, 8 million from the contingency fund in the absence of the necessary Appropriation Act as an example of the serious non-compliance with the law.
She said it was the responsibility of every Mosotho to assist in ensuring that the public servants account for every cent allocated to their ministries by parliament.
“I have never seen any sustainable economy without money and unless we all work to ensure that the money that is appropriated by the parliament is properly utilised, our economy will not be viable,” Ms Matekane said.
Her remarks came against the background of the Auditor General, Lucy Liphafa’s adverse opinions in the latest audit reports for the 2015/16 and 2016/17 financial years.
While acknowledging the adverse opinions, Ms Matekane however, said that the reports should also be viewed in a positive light in that they indicated that “Lesotho was striving to have a clean audit report”.
She said the adverse opinions on state finances should be viewed as a positive indication that the country is working hard to ensure that civil servants account for the public funds allocated to their departments.
In the last audited financials for the 2016/17 financial year, the auditor general noted that there were material and pervasive misstatements indicating that a non-compliance with the constitution and International Public Sector Accounting Standards.
The adverse opinion further indicated that there were discrepancies of figures in the consolidated financial statements with those in the source records in that opening balances were different from the previous closing balances.
Ms Liphafa’s audit report for the 2016/17 financial year, released in June this year, shows that the previous seven parties’ coalition diverted part of the M450 million meant for student bursaries to fund the termination of the controversial Bidvest fleet services tender which was mired in corruption as well as funding the June 3 2017 elections.
The report also shows that M28, 4 million of that money was diverted to fund the procurement of cyber security equipment.
On her part, Deputy Auditor General Mafani Masoabi said while it remained a serious concern that government spending continued to outstrip revenue generation, the two adverse opinions issued by Ms Liphafa were still a huge achievement in the quest to ensure accountability for public funds.
“This is a great achievement for Lesotho in that for the first time we managed to get documents enabling us to audit the state financials. We are now hopeful that one day have clean audited reports,” Ms Masoabi said.
She however, warned that the clean audited reports could only be a reality if principal secretaries diligently played their oversight role on the use of public funds. She said the chief accounting officers had to ensure that every income and expenditure was properly documented.
Ms Masoabi also sang the praises of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) for opening its proceedings to the public, saying this helped instill a sense of propriety among principal secretaries and their subordinates who knew their conduct would be open to scrutiny.
“Now that the PAC proceedings are open to the public and the media, this has brought a positive change in the government spending because people don’t want to be exposed or embarrassed. And this was to be sustained, we would soon get to a point where the auditor general will issue a clean opinion on the consolidated financial statements,” Ms Masoabi said.
On his part, Deputy Auditor General Kopano Mou said there were several improvements in the audited reports and that for the first time in many years, they were optimistic that serious issued raised in the past reports would be addressed.
“For the past 30 years, we have had only one clean audit. The majority of the audited reports had disclaimer of opinion while certain periods were not audited at all. But now there is a clear indication that we are going somewhere.
“Unlike in the past where concerns raised in the past were not addressed, I can safely tell you that issues that were raised in the 2016/17 report will not be raised in the next consolidated financial statements because they have since been dealt with accordingly.
“Civil servants are trying their best to comply with the law and we are finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel,” Mr Mou said.