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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

NAO says Judiciary should be audited

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By Omar Bah

The National Audit Office has clarified that the Judiciary of The Gambia as a public institution should be audited by the Auditor General under the mandate specified in the 1997 Constitution. The Judiciary has been going back and forth with the National Assembly over its position that the judiciary should henceforth be audited. 

But in a statement shared with The Standard, the NAO said since the Judiciary is an autonomous public institution and receives its revenue through an appropriation by the National Assembly, it is mandated to prepare and submit its financial statements for audit in fulfillment of the constitutional mandate of enhancing accountability and transparency in the use of public resources.

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The NAO’s statement continues: “Section 144(2) of the 1997 Constitution states the Judicature shall be self-accounting, and the money charged to the Consolidated Fund or appropriated by an Act of the National Assembly for the Judicature shall be paid by the accountant general to the accounting officer for the Judicature as required by the Chief Justice.

By the above constitutional provision, the judiciary is required to prepare a separate set of financial statements and submit them for audit to account for the use of funds appropriated by the National Assembly. Since it attained self-accounting status, the Judiciary has never provided its set of financial statements to the NAO for the Auditor General to conduct a financial audit of the institution to present an audit opinion on its financial performance in the use of resources allocated to it. The audit period referred to in the Judiciary’s press release of April 19th was a transaction audit as part of the consolidated audit of the Gambia government, where a sample of transactions is normally collected and tested. This was not a separate financial audit of the judiciary”.

The NAO said it is surprised by the assertion of the judiciary that it is audited by an external auditor every five years.

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“This is not accurate and is a big flaw on the part of the judiciary as it contradicts Section 160 (1)(c) of the 1997 Constitution, which is herein reproduced verbatim: “At least once a year, audit and report on the public accounts of The Gambia, the accounts of all offices and authorities of the Government of The Gambia, the accounts of the courts, the accounts of the National Assembly, and the accounts of all enterprises. The general public is reminded that the NAO is the mandated institution to audit all public institutions, and even though the NAO is constrained resource-wise to audit all the public institutions, the NAO Act 2015 provides for the Auditor General to outsource some audits to private audit firms on his or her behalf. NAO has never outsourced the audit of the judiciary to any external private auditor. The Auditor General wishes to share that on the part of the NAO, the Judiciary of the Gambia has been formally written to on several occasions requesting it to submit its full set of financial statements for the commencement of an audit exercise, but to no avail. In the spirit of supporting all public institutions to be compliant with the statutory laws and regulations, we have also extended our arms to the Judiciary for a dialogue on the issue of their audit to provide all necessary support, clarification, and guidance. Unfortunately, our meeting requests have yet to be granted. We hope that the National Assembly, as the Supreme Oversight Body of the country, will, as a matter of urgency, also come in to convene a dialogue on this crucial matter,” the NAO said.

The NAO reaffirmed its commitment to strengthening its collaboration, as the judiciary is a very critical stakeholder in its work.

“We are open to dialogue to provide advice in helping to resolve challenges concerning its audit and what constitutes full financial statements.  

The Auditor General wishes to use this opportunity to also remind public entities required to prepare their financial statements for annual audits to ensure they comply with this requirement. Late submission of financial statements and, in most cases, submission of inaccurate financial statements continue to be one of the biggest challenges of the NAO in its service delivery. This capacity gap ultimately impacts the audit completion timelines and is one reason why some public institutions are still being audited in backlog. We implore all stakeholders, especially our auditees, to prioritize the capacity building of their staff to enhance productivity. As always, we count on the support and collaboration of all stakeholders in delivering our mandate,” it concluded.

Hearing continues.

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