RESPONSE TO H.E. THE PRESIDENT’S COMMENTS ON STAR TV INTERVIEW IN RESPECT OF AUDIT REPORTS AND AUDITORS’ OPINION
We, the members of The Gambia Institute of Chartered Accountants (GICA), are concerned by, the statements made by the President in his recent interview on Star TV on the subject of audit opinions on 17th March 2023. We quote excerpts of H.E.’s statement “audit reports only give opinions. It should not only stop at an opinion and make conclusions” “…an auditor can make mistakes. An auditor can be biased. All that can happen.”
This statement is not a reflection of the work of auditors and what the accounting term ”audit opinion” represents. For clarification, an opinion is the end result of an independent, professionally planned, systematically conducted and executed audit programme.
Audit takes place within a defined set of rules or laws and auditors are equally accountable to these laws and professional standards. Auditing of public accounts is governed by Sections 158 – 160 of the 1997 Constitution of The Gambia, which provides for the appointment of an Auditor General and the setting up of the National Audit Office. The Companies Act 2013 provides the authority for the audit of companies and the Public Finance Act, 2014 requires the Auditor General to lay audited accounts before the Public Accounts Committee of the National Assembly. In the First Republic, we had the Accountants Act 1991 which was repealed in 2013 following the enactment of the Financial Reporting Act, 2013 which established Gambia Institute of Chartered Accountants (GICA) and the Financial Reporting Oversight Board (FROB) responsible for governing the affairs of the Accountancy Profession including Auditors.
Auditors are governed by their professional bodies such as GICA and Financial Reporting Oversight Board (FROB) locally and Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW), International Federation of Accountants (IFAC), Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions (INTOSAI) globally to ensure audit independence, integrity and professionalism. Auditors are required to abide by the technical standards, ethics and regulations of these bodies. Independence of the auditor is crucial for the stakeholders who use the audit reports example financial Institutions, Tax authorities like the Gambia Revenue Authority, investors, multilateral donor agencies, World Bank, IMF, European Union who are major financiers to the government programmes, researchers and learning institutions etc. bias is eliminated through enforcement of professional and technical standards to ensure assurance to all stakeholders and users of audit reports and sanctions are applied where bias is found including redress in the competent courts of law to those relying on the opinion of Accountants and Auditors.
GICA would like to categorically state that it is not aware of bias against the management and accountants of institutions, projects, departments or entities and accounting officers based on audit opinion by its members. GICA wishes to assure all stakeholders that the audit reports presented are the results of audits that are performed through a diligent and independent application of international auditing standards to examine and test records, data, reports, documentation, internal controls and other procedures as considered necessary for the due performance of their work. These are professionals who have undergone in most cases a minimum of 5 years of training, 3 years of experience gathering in a recognized firm, certified, and licensed by their local and global institutes which are subject to periodic renewal. They are also required to undergo period and continuous development, the evidence of which are filed and monitored by the professional bodies of which they are members.
The Gambian public relies on the National Audit Office, through the constitution and Acts of parliament, including the Public Finance Act, 2014 and the Financial Reporting Act, 2013, to hold those in charge of public funds accountable through their audits, which provide independent, unbiased professional audit opinions to the National Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee. The Gambian public is informed through these audits on the compliance, of those responsible for managing public funds, with the financial, procurement and fiscal rules and regulations and relevant laws of The Gambia. This is enshrined in the Constitution as a right of all citizens.
Management letters are issued giving the management and directors of the auditees the opportunity to respond to all the issues raised before the audit is closed and an “opinion” given on the Financial Statements. If management and directors of entities do not accept the audit findings in the Management Letter, they have all opportunities to respond and present their facts and evidences to the auditors, who will then make a final judgement based on all the information available to them.
It is important that the general public is informed of the important value of auditing services in the country’s economic and financial system, trading of shares, bonds, commodities and securities and providing crucial assurance services on which banks and investors and other stakeholders rely upon to make critical financial and investment decisions. It should be noted here that Gambia is not unique in this situation and developed financial markets trading in securities and commodities and moving billions of dollars, pounds sterling and euros, have great confidence in the accounting and auditing profession and are major stakeholders of auditing services and audit opinions.
Audits, like judges at all levels of the courts, doctors and other professions make judgements based on professional, ethical and technical standards derived from the evidences available to them. GICA would like to assure all the stakeholders that use audit reports – financial reports, investigative audit reports, compliance audit reports and special purpose audit reports, that the institute is mandated to ensure high standards of professionalism that eliminates all forms of bias, misrepresentation of facts and misinformation and ensure accountability.
Date 21st March 2023
Signed by: The Council of The Gambia Institute of Chartered Accountants (GICA)