… for resolving audit irregularities  

Audit: The joint sitting of the Parliament yesterday resolved to make head of agencies accountable for monitoring and resolving audit irregularities and take legal action on officials for unresolved irregularities within a year from the date of issue of audit report.

Besides, the head of the agency has to also report the implementation status to the Royal Audit Authority (RAA) by September 30 of each financial year to be incorporated in the annual audit report. Similarly, the RAA should also be informed of the legal action taken on the irregularities from 2009-13 by March 30, 2016 to be reflected in their annual report as a separate chapter.

Although members agreed that the low recovery rate of irregularities was a concern, most members were skeptical on the Public Accounts Committee’s (PAC) recommendation to hold the head of the agencies accountable.

While some members agreed reasoning that the recovery rate would see improvement, others felt that it was not right.

Lamgong-Wangchang’s representative Khandu Wangchuk said holding the head of agencies accountable was too harsh and that it would only lead to more issues. “As they have to take legal action, some cases wouldn’t even merit a court case,” he said.

Speaking of his past tenure as the minister for economic affairs ministry, Khandu Wangchuk said the ministry in collaboration with other agencies and the Cabinet could resolve all irregularities that were pending for about 25 years by 2003.

“The recommendation should be flexible enough to be practical,” he said.

Finance minister Namgay Dorji said that although recommendations are passed, there are issues when it comes to implementation. “Merely passing a resolution doesn’t serve the purpose if it’s not implemented,” lyonpo said.

Paro’s councilor Kaka Tshering said that to resolve irregularities in dzongkhags, dzongdags must be held accountable and for agencies, the department heads and so on.

“If an official who is given the responsibility cannot take accountability, they should be held accountable,” he said.  However, he said that as elected members, it would not be wise to hold the ministers accountable.

As per the 2014 RAA report, the total unresolved irregularities stands at Nu 612.369M (million) from 2009-2013. The resolved irregularity is about eight percent at Nu 53.417M, which according to the PAC is low.

Ministries continue to have the highest unresolved irregularities at Nu 545.05M followed by corporations and financial institutions at Nu 48.48M. Among the ministries, the foreign ministry had the highest irregularities at Nu 196.23M followed by the information and communication ministry at Nu 173.63M. Penden Cement Authority Ltd. has the highest irregularity with Nu 45.576M.

PAC attributed the low recovery rate to lack of accountability fixation mechanism other than the penalty of 24 percent. The third session of the second Parliament had directed all pending issues of annual audit report till 2010 to be resolved by the agencies concerned by April 30, 2014.

The unresolved irregularities for 2011-12 were to be resolved by November 30, 2014. However, the committee observed that the response from the agencies has been poor resulting in low recovery.

Drametse-Ngatshang’s representative Ugyen Wangdi noted that there was no mention on the course of action of unresolved issues even after the Parliament in its past sessions endorsed that irregularities must be resolved within a year.

Going by this trend, he said ministries and agencies concerned could keep deferring it as per their convenience. “If the ministries couldn’t resolve, there should be some facility to inform the Parliament of the issues for a way forward,” he said.

Leader of the Opposition (Dr) Pema Gyamtsho said that civil servants are not wiling to be accountable for fear of possible repercussion. “One of the recommendations should be to loosen the procedures and tighten the outcome,” he said. “We just can’t impose penalty on people through stern regulations alone.”

The Parliament also endorsed that concerned agencies strictly follow the financial rules and regulations and RAA to enforce the accountability fixation to the immediate supervisors. They also recommended the government strictly monitor implementation of planned activities in the dzongkhags to ensure that lapses and deficiencies are not repeated.

Among the resolved irregularities, 55.12 percent of the irregularities were resolved by the autonomous agencies followed by 16.06 percent by the corporations and 11.42 percent by the ministries.

By Kinga Dema