Half of NAO recommendations implemented: 'Auditing is not a witch-hunt'

Out of 169 selected recommendations, 83 have been fully implemented whilst the rest remain partially implemented or unaddressed

Auditor General Charles Deguara with member of the European Court of Auditors, Leo Brincat (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)
Auditor General Charles Deguara with member of the European Court of Auditors, Leo Brincat (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)

A follow-up of eleven audits carried out by the National Audit Office (NAO) between 2010 and 2015 has found that 83 had been fully-implemented, 53 had been partially implemented and a further 30 recommendations remained unaddressed.

The exercise followed a total of 169 selected recommendations.

Addressing at a joint seminar between the NAO and European Court of Auditors on the benefits of audit follow-ups in the public sector, Deputy Auditor General Noel Camilleri, said that the follow-exercise had sought to determine the extent to which its recommendations over the years had been taken on by the public sector.

He said that the intention was to carry out similar follow-ups on a yearly basis, with an annual report published every October.

Camilleri explained that the 11 audits selected included six compliance audits, four performance audits and a single special audit, falling within the health, education, environmental protection, housing, community and public order, recreation and, culture and religion sectors.

He noted that while representative sampling had not been used in selecting which recommendations to analyse, they had been taken from varying tiers of importance and that provisional figures had shown that “some form of action” was taken on 81% of recommendations.  

Camilleri stressed that “one of the principal aims” of public auditing was the enhancement of public finances and public services in general.

“Follow-ups are just as important as without them all the potential benefits from our work would be wasted,” said Camilleri, adding that it had proven particularly challenging to carry out follow-ups since there wasn’t a mechanism in the “public auditing tool-kit”.

He stressed that the NAO’s role was not only “to keep the administration in check, but to also push for reforms”.

According to Camilleri, there still remained many questions that needed answering, such what the appropriate time for a follow-up audit was, and details of how they should be carried out.

He suggested that it might also make sense to have a consolidated audit, or follow-up, of the public sector which Camilleri said might “encourage a more corporate approach to dealing with wide-ranging issues”.

Moreover, he said that it would also be beneficial for the NAO to become more familiar with “accountability relationships”, and underscored the need to work more closely with the media, the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee and other entities so as for the NAO not to work in a vacuum.

Principal permanent secretary Mario Cutajar (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)
Principal permanent secretary Mario Cutajar (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)

Public Sector exercise ‘didn’t flag recurrent problems’

On his part, Mario Cutajar, the government’s principal permanent secretary, said that the public sector’s decision to follow-up on audit reports had “set an example, with the Auditor General also taking steps to follow-up on recommendations”.

Furthermore, he said that a “private consulting firm” had been engaged to determine the extent to which the same issues were recurring across government entities.

Cutajar insisted that on public procurement, which has repeatedly been flagged as a point of weakness, ministerial procurement units had been set up to “scrutinise contracts, as well as to promote smart procurement through planning”.

‘We need to foster more trust’ – Leo Brincat

Former minister and current member of the European Court of Auditors Leo Brincat warned against auditors positioning themselves as being ready to embark on a crusade or witch-hunt, insisted that this would only serve to disengage those being audited.

“It is even up to us to make it clear that we are trying to foster more trust and identify good principles to make life easier for those we are auditing,“ he said.

Turning to European policy, Brincat said there was a need to formulate plans that were flexible and could be adapted to changing circumstances.

One such example, he said, was the recent migration crisis, which had shot up as a priority item, causing spending to have to be shifted in order to address it.

“We need to be flexible, but we must also be vigilant to make sure that shifts in resources are being used properly and that nobody is able to take advantage of a crisis,” said Brincat.

Finally, he too spoke about the need for better coordination with the media, noting that there was a tendency for stories to be picked up and used in order to discredit, or highlight the shortcomings, of a particular institution. While this was valid, he said it was also important for audits of this nature to be viewed in more constructive terms.  

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