Busuttil: National Audit Office’s lack of resources standing in the way of its autonomy

The Opposition leader called for more financial resources to be granted to ‘one of the few remaining institutions that respect good governance’

Simon Busuttil said that the reason for the NAO’s autonomy was the fact that it was safeguarded constitutionally (File photo)
Simon Busuttil said that the reason for the NAO’s autonomy was the fact that it was safeguarded constitutionally (File photo)

Outgoing Opposition leader Simon Busuttil has stressed the need for the National Audit Office (NAO) to be granted more resources in order for it to be able to effectively carry out its constitutional function.

Speaking during a visit to the NAO offices in Floriana, Busuttil stressed that as with the court system, justice delayed is equivalent to justice denied, and that while the NAO had showed itself to be an impartial institution, it was not able to keep up with the large number of pending investigations.

He stressed that the NAO was one of the few entities, together with the office of the Ombudsman, that truly respected good governance and autonomy from the government.

“You know the Opposition has often lamented the fact that government has seized the countries institutions and used them to act in its own interests,” Busuttil told Auditor General Charles Deguara. “This doesn’t apply to you.”

He added that the reason for the NAO’s autonomy was the fact that it was safeguarded constitutionally.

"This gives you autonomy which you have used well,” he continued. “The model that applies to you should be taken on by other institutions".

One example, Busuttil said, was the Police Commissioner, who the Opposition has long since stressed should be appointed with a two-thirds parliamentary majority.

Busuttil stressed that while he had every respect for the work done by the NAO, this did not mean there weren’t any issues with its work.

He said that recent correspondence between the NAO and Beppe Fenech Adami, the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, had revealed that there were currently 41 pending reports, including 10 appeals for investigation by the Opposition, with some having been pending for over two years.

One such pending investigation, he said, was into contracts such as those relating to the power stations. He questioned what would happen if the office were to find there was a problem with the contracts now that the power station had been built and was already operational.

On his part, Deguara said it was a very important year for the office because it marked the 20th anniversary since the constitutional reform which gave the NAO complete autonomy.

"I have been here for ten years and have worked under two administrations, both of which respected the office’s autonomy,” he said, adding that while there had been disagreements in the past, the office was always allowed to carry out its work.  

"We believe our work is important,” he said. “It’s like the work of a doctor who determines what the appropriate course of action is, but it is ultimately the patient that must decide," he said, adding that while the NAO’s work was difficult it was also of satisfaction when shortcomings flagged by the office were acted upon.

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