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Rejoinder to President Barrow’s interview with Malick Jones

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By Nuha Ceesay

Dear editor, please allow me space in your renowned news outlet to express my disapproval of the value President Adama Barrow attached to audit reports during his recent interview with Malick Jones. During that said interview, the president could be heard saying that he could not sack or drag corrupt government officials to court because in his own words, “audit reports are just opinions”. He went on further to say, “An auditor can make mistakes”, “an auditor can be biased”, “all that can happen”. This is very unfortunate for a president who swore by the living god to uphold the constitution of the Gambia, and serve justly without fear, favour and or ill will, to attempt to discredit the all-important office of the auditor general. I want to use this rejoinder to educate and school President Barrow on the role of the auditor general and the audit report. Mr president, part 2 of the 1996 constitution of the Gambia at section 158 subsection 1 established the position of the Auditor General whilst section 159 established the National Audit Office. Subsection 2 of section 158 of the 1996 constitution states that “the auditor-general shall be appointed by the president after consultation with the Public Service Commission”. If you are saying that you cannot drag any corrupt officials to court because you believe that the audit report is a mere opinion. In my opinion Mr president, you are insinuating that the auditors do not know their job and not fit to serve in that role. Clearly, if that holds, that tells a lot about the person who appoints them. Mr president, let me tell you what an auditor is and what audit reports contain. “Someone whose job is to carry out an official examination of the accounts of a business and to produce a report” (Cambridge Dictionary). “A person trained to make an official examination of financial records” (American Dictionary). Mr president, in case you do not know, auditors are highly skilled individuals who are guided by the ethics of the profession and the public interest. In simplistic terms, Mr president, the business professor states that an audit report is the report resulting from auditors conducting an audit following Generally Accepted Accounting Standards (GAAS) guidelines created by the Auditing Standards Board (ASB) of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). In the Gambian context Mr president, the accountant general is expected to prepare the accounts in accordance with the provisions of the constitution, the Public Finance Act and Cash Basis, and International Public Sector Accounting Standard (IPSAS) regulated by the International Public Sector Accounting Standards Board (IPSASB). The auditor will examine whether that is done in simple terms. In my opinion Mr president, your statement was irresponsible, reckless, and unbecoming of a head of state. Your statement is an insult and was aimed at undermining the integrity of the supreme audit institution. I expect all well-meaning accountants in and outside the Gambia to condemn in the strongest terms this latest attempt by President Barrow to ridicule the exemplary work of the supreme audit institution of the Gambia. The Gambia National Audit Office has made giant strides to ensure that sanity prevails in the administration of the public finances and report on lapses. They made their work visible in accordance with the constitution drawing attention to the numerous malpractices and deliberate misappropriation of public funds by officials of your government Mr president. I do not believe that you have the will power to fight corruption in your government and it does not need a rocket scientist to figure out that you are only attempting to justify your inaction by ridiculing the good work of the National Audit Office in my view. Notwithstanding Mr president, the auditors DO NOT do their work in a vacuum, they are assisted by the accountant general and his staff or any other auditees as in the case of MDAS. Mr president, the audit report is prepared in a way that there is a statement of the facts, the opinion, and a recommendation. I will elaborate more on these three components using one small portion out of the many of a recently published audit report as an example: The final audit of the accounts of the government of the Gambia 2019 has the following: ? statement of facts: “A review of ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) files at the ministry of finance and economic affairs (MoFEA) revealed that virements amounting D67,960,644.78 were made between and across budget entities. However, there was no evidence to suggest that these were approved by the minister before transfers were made contrary to the above provisions of the Financial Regulations”. This is a fact that the auditors have stated and not an opinion. Your government has blatantly flouted the Financial Regulations part III, section 19 subsection 6, which states that “the minister shall, where he or she decides to adopt the virement procedure, sign a Virement Warrant and send it to the accountant general, together with copies to the auditor general and the applicant Vote Controller”. The evidence relevant to this is in appendix 1 and Appendix A of the said audit report Mr president, where the evidence provided by the accountant general in Appendix A revealed that “approvals for virement were granted by Deputy Director of Budget Unit without formal delegation of authority by the minister; as a result, the issue remained unresolved”. ? Opinion: “There is a risk that the virements were not approved by the minister”. “The provision of the Financial Regulations is not adhered to”. This is where the opinion is Mr president. In the auditors’ opinion, there is a risk of non-compliance. ? Recommendation: “We recommend that the evidence of virement approval by the minister be provided to the audit team for verification”. “In future, the dictates of the Financial Regulations should be adhered to”. I expect the Minister of Finance to be your first point of call before making such wild statements Mr president but then again when you have a finance minister who believes that shipments to Gambia from abroad being sent through the seaports of a competitor country (Senegal) is “Good” for the Gambian economy will not be able to give you a sound financial advice. I will stop here for now Mr president, but should you need more schooling on the role of the auditor general and the National Audit Office, please do not hesitate to give me a shout. Before any of you sycophants say anything, I am not looking for a job as I can’t work with anyone who ridicules my profession and does not appreciate the fact that they know nothing about my profession.

Nuha Ceesay MAAT, FCCA, MSc (Merit) Associate Member – Global Association of Fraud Examiners, PhD Research Fellow. The author is a published author: Link to Book on Amazon (The Sustainability Debate: Policies, Gender and the Media: 14 (Critical Studies on Corporate Responsibility, Governance and Sustainability, 14). He is currently a Finance Systems Specialist for an organisation in the multi-billion-pound rail industry, worked across Financial Services – Retail Banking, Technology responsible for teams in Europe, the Asian Pacific and North and South America, Retail and Practice across the United Kingdom. He is a licensed Global Expert Witness by the Global Association of Chartered Certified Accountants.

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