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Friday, April 12, 2024

40 years a defender of public purse

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Towards the end of the year, a now former Auditor General of The Gambia, Karamba Touray, called time on his career as a protector of the public purse. Over 40 years of public service. Touray, a former Armitage High School student, started work at the Auditor General’s Office, then a department under the Office of the President, in September 1981.

He rose through the ranks to become the Auditor General in June 2013.

In 1997, a new constitution established a National Audit Office, giving it operational independence. But there was a lack of political will to ensure the total independence of the office.

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In 2015, barely two years after Touray was appointed, the supreme audit body became totally independent. The National Assembly passed a National Audit Office Act. After this important achievement, the institution got operational independence, although there was still

In 2019, the supreme audit body moved to its own office along the Bertil Harding Highway. Touray and the leadership of audit the body worked harder to ensure better salaries and benefits for their workers. This has incredibly reduced the attrition rate at the NAO.

Despite huge progress, the NAO has a lot of challenges. It enjoyed limited visibility. Often, serious lack of political will to support their operations which leads to underfunding. This has its own ripple effects. Understaffing, for example.

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Audits of accounts of government lag by a year, sometimes 2. But the NAO has always weathered the storm. The supreme audit office does up to about 250 audits annually. A number of these reports, such as performance audits and audit of government accounts and financial statements of various departments, can be found on their website.

As a way of increasing visibility for their work, the NAO under Touray created a website in 2020. This brought a lot of ease to activists and journalists with interest in public sector accountability.

Touray pushed for more reforms. In 2021, the NAO hired a communications specialist to enhance the audit office’s engagement with the media and the civil society. The impact of this has been huge. Almost, all recent audits of the audit body had incredible visibility. Whether it was their work on the Banjul Roads and Sewage Project, audit of Covid-19 funds or 2017 and 2018 audit of government’s books—all of which enjoyed incredible media coverage.

The NAO also made several simplified audits in small booklets for easy consumption. This is to ensure that those who cannot read their major report can still have access to their products.

Of course, these efforts were not without push backs. Anyone in the field of accountability in the Gambia knows it is a very unattractive area to be involved in, for many reasons. Primary of it all is that you make powerful enemies.

Touray made his own a handful. It has been 40 years of stepping on toes of the rich and powerful, often those only a phone call away from the Office of the President. In the last 2 years, with increasing awareness on their audit—the political players became jittery.

A number of interest groups, including ministers and very senior government officials, started ridiculing their works. In 2021 and 2022, at least 3 press conferences were held to counter their audit findings by ministries without any evidence. Touray remained steadfast and focused.

Some of their most prominent works such as the audit of the Covid-19 funds, Banjul Roads and Sewage Project, and the Securiport, show heavy backlash from different groups, some with huge political influence. Despite these challenges and often, threats to their job security, each time he is called “yes”, he answers.

In 2020, the NAO won an international prize for a performance audit they did on access to obstetric care in the Gambia, detailing the challenges in the area.

Mr Touray bagged MSc in audit management and consultancy from the University of Central England. Until his retirement, Touray was a member of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation Finance Control Organ, responsible for the audit of the OIC secretariat in Saudi Arabia and its subsidiary organs.

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