No intention of politicizing AG's office - Auditor General
The Auditor General Gamini Wijesinghe who has become the cynosure of
all eyes after the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) sought his
opinion over the Central Bank Bond issue, recently stirred up a hornet's
nest by saying the Government had exceeded the Parliament-set ceiling on
State borrowings. Observers said he seemed to be on the war path with
the good governance government.
However, in an interview with the Sunday Observer last week, he
refuted this claim saying that he was enjoying the freedom to be vocal
and independent under the present government, although there were
contentious issues with the Finance Ministry.
"I have no intention of politicizing the office of the Auditor
General. Political parties may try to take advantage of the situation
but my intention is to do an honest job of work," said.
Excerpts of the interview:
Q: There seems to be a dispute between the Auditor General and
the Finance Minister. The Finance Minister had a meeting with you on
Friday. Has everything been settled after the meeting?
A: I prepared my 2015 report on 'Financial statements' and
submitted it to the Finance Ministry last May. It was going to be one of
the annextures in the 2015 Annual Report. On May 30, the Report was
published in the ministry website. Later, it was tabled in Parliament
and I think it was the JVP who raised the observations made by the
Auditor General on state borrowings.
Till then, no one had noticed that there was a controversy on state
borrowings. We made an observation that borrowings had exceeded the
parliament approved limits by Rs.1.5 trillion in 2015. In fact, in the
previous year (2014) too, the limit was exceeded by Rs.1.1 trillion.
The calculations were done according to set guidelines in the
'Appropriation Act' and there is no discrepancy in the methodology used.
I stand by the observations made by the Department.
Q: Did you manage to iron out the issues?
A: No. The Finance Ministry argued that loans that were repaid
within the same year should not be added to the amount of borrowings.
They have borrowed Rs.100 billion in January 2015 and repaid that
amount. But the Appropriation Act which authorises the raising of loans
inside and outside the country, clearly indicates that calculations
should be made considering the 'aggregate' of all 'proceeds' within that
year. Repaying a loan will not qualify the amount to be omitted from the
The Ministry must either change the wordings in the Act or raise the
ceiling of state loans without contradicting the Auditor Genenral's
report. State borrowings are not my concern but putting out an accurate
audit report is my concern.
Q: Following the JVP expose, the Auditor General was summoned
to the Finance Ministry. There were claims that you were questioned by
the Finance Minister?
A: No. That is a complete misinterpretation of what happened.
I recently met Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in Parliament to
explain the Report, this particular meeting was attended by Finance
Minister Ravi Karunanayake, Secretary to the Prime Minister and the
Finance Ministry Secretary.
After my deliberations, the PM understood that something was amiss.
He asked whether I could explain my observations to the ministry staff.
I accepted that. I was not summoned by the Minister. The meeting could
have taken place at the Auditor General's office but we were not worried
Q: Did you settle the issue at this meeting at the Finance
A: The officials did not accept our position. They wanted us
to admit that we had made a mistake. The Ministry has decided to appoint
a committee comprising Deputy Treasury Secretaries and officials of the
Auditor General's Department to look into this matter. I am waiting for
the Terms of Reference to nominate a person.
Some bureaucrats think the Auditor General is under their purview.
The Auditor General should be above bureaucracy and not below them.
Q: Were you contemplating resigning at some point?
A: What do you mean ?
Q: Did you make a statement to that effect recently?
A: What I said was if anyone wants to remove me, they are free
to do so. I am not going to hang on to this job. I have three more years
in this position but I am ready to go home anytime. I have worked with
honour. This is my 31st year in the public service. I have sacrificed my
retirement to serve the country.
I have no intention of politicizing the office of the Auditor
General. Political parties may try to take advantage of the situation
but my intention is to do an honest job of work.
Q: The President has taken a decision not to renew the term of
Central Bank Governor Arjun Mahendran. In this backdrop, the
investigations against him over the Bond issue will cease to continue ?
A: I have prepared a report giving my opinion at the request
of COPE. The full report runs into 1,251 pages. COPE was handed over a
summarized version. COPE unanimously agreed to accept the Report. We did
not call for a financial forensic analysis on my Report. It was not
necessary, it was an open case. But if COPE needs to cover that area,
they can call for such expertise. On July 5, COPE will re-convene and
Q: Did you get all the documents you required from the Central
Bank to prepare the audit on the Bond issue?
A: Not at the initial stages but later on, upon COPE's
intervention and insistence the CB released the documents. I appreciate
the role played by COPE.
Q: Will you be asked to appear before the Public Accounts
Committee as well on the Bond issue?
A: That too will be decided by COPE at the next meeting. I am
ready to appear before any committee.
Q: Have you made any recommendations in the Report?
A: Yes there are many, I have to think about the value for
state money. The future decisions over fiscal matters may be based on
these recommendations in the report. COPE will issue its report based on
the Auditor General's opinion and it will be in the public domain after
The sensitive information from the Central Bank has been omitted from
the Report submitted to COPE. But the Report to the Speaker is
uncensored. The Finance Ministry may refute the conclusion in my report,
in that case COPE will decide a way forward.
Q: In the line of duty have you been under pressure from the
A: No I haven't. Even if I face such pressure I don't take it
seriously. I feel there is more freedom today. I feel free to express my
Q: The long overdue new Audit draft Bill was to be submitted
to Cabinet this week. Did it get the green light ?
A: I don't know. To my knowledge it has not been presented. We
were hopeful even last week that the Cabinet will get to see the draft
Bill and it will be approved. It is currently lying at the Prime
Minister's office and due to some reason it has been going back and
forth. The Department is seeking independence from the Finance Ministry
over budgetary allocations. We are seeking the Speaker's intervention in
this so that our oversight role would be without any strings attached.
It is to do with salaries and other incidental expenses. Further, we
have asked for a special fund to support incidental expenses when
handling major cases such as the Central Bank bond issue.
Then we need not be at the mercy of the Finance Ministry. Whatever
left of this fund will be emptied to the Consolidated Fund (Treasury) at
the end of each financial year.
This proposal is in keeping with the UN standards to transform the
Auditor General's Department into a Supreme Audit Institution.
I think the bureaucracy is standing in the way to block this Bill.
They are against some of the powers the Auditor General is going to gain
when the new Act is in place, to hold state officials accountable for
the decisions and actions that might cause financial loss to the state.
The Auditor General will be empowered to recommend a surcharge to
recover the loss, if it is proved that the officer acted arbitrarily.
If this law is in place there will be less room for corruption.
Q: Do you feel that there is resistance within the Government
in getting the Act passed in Parliament?
A: I haven't come across any other form of pressure, except
for resistance from the Finance Ministry and some ministry secretaries.
If there are concerns these can be raised at the Parliament stage. We
put our heart and soul to it but now we are on the verge of giving up.