An editorial in Kuensel titled “What after the audit report” criticised that the “issues are the same for years which includes poor work quality, goods not meeting specifications, excess or inadmissible payment, embezzlement, faulty designs, incomplete construction yet paying advances more than they deserve, contractors making money by sub-standard work, non-use of new infrastructure, all at the expenses of either borrowed or aid money.”

This summarises the not only the entire scenario of transparency, accountability, efficiency, and public service delivery by both the public officials and private entities involved in the nation-building but also reveals the effectiveness of auditing in the country. The Annual Report published by the Royal Audit Authority (RAA) showed that the “budget irregularities rose by 134.1 percent in 2019 and unresolved irregularities are 1.415 billion ngultrums.”

RAA is established under Article 15 of the Constitution to “enhance accountability and proper utilisation of public resources through effective auditing and reporting without fear, favour or prejudice, and to promote Good Governance.”

One of the principle objectives of RAA is “to promote accountability, transparency, integrity and value for money in public operations.” However, skimming at the unresolved irregularities, the RAA has failed to achieve the objective. The increasing irregularities and unresolved issues pending for years is a strong indication that the mere publication audit observations had neither promoted accountability, transparency, integrity, and value for money in public operations.

The audit observations legally binding per se unless there is an element of criminal offence such as embezzlement. The only tools with RAA is withhold the audit clearances.  Even non-issuance of clearances has negligible or no impact on the civil servants as their transfers rest with RCSC and often transferred with audit issues in their names.

Therefore, RAA must expand its authority beyond issuing observations. For example, Section 55 (11) states that RAA can “provide the Parliament, Government and any public entity, its professional opinion on policy and legal framework and matters relating to financial management or others.” Further, under Section 84, RAA can any other review or evaluation that may contribute towards promoting integrity, efficiency, transparency and accountability in public operations.  For example, the Government limited purchase of laptops with a maximum ceiling of forty thousand through a circular. This has resulted in import of thousands of laptops which are either refurbished or sub-standard with completely pirated software exposing the entire national digital framework, an easy target of cybercriminals besides violating numerous intellectual property right.

Similarly, though Public Procurement Rules and Regulations require to select lowest evaluated bidders, it is often well known that agencies select lowest bidders to avoid audit observations costing billions of borrowed or aid money later on due to poor work or service. These are systemic flaws due to policies and legal framework where RAA should have to provide a professional opinion to rectify such systemic flaws. RAA only issued observations on non-compliance to such rules and policies and did nothing on these or similar issues.

Thus, RAA must come out of their conventional style of issuance of never-ending observation with no good end results. Their observations only piled up more irregularities often pending for years. RAA must explore better options which are already there in the law rectify the systemic flaws first. This will help address lapses and minimize irregularities to a large extent. Until such time, the audit issues will remain a paper tiger.

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.