Public should be concerned
(CNS): The auditor general has said that the public needs to be concerned about how government is spending and managing public money. Following the release of another report highlighting continued weaknesses in how government looks after the public purse, Alastair Swarbrick said government has a duty to have proper stewardship over public finances and the people need to pay attention to how their money is being managed. Ahead of several more reports expected over the next two months, the auditor general encouraged the public to pay close attention to how its money was being looked after.
“I think the public should be concerned about these issues. It is their money at the end of the day, however it is collected and whatever coercive revenues it is incurred through,” Swarbrick said Tuesday, as he published his latest report revealing continued risks of abuse of the government’s fuel card system GASBOY.
“They should be looking for the government to get as much value as possible from that money,” the auditor general said, referring to public coffers. “It should be directed at appropriate things, the right things and not used for inappropriate activities. It should be of very significant concern to the public if there is a risk of potential abuse of the system.”
Swarbrick said his reports were not about “picking on” or “harassing” government but it was his job to hold government to account for its use of public funds.
“We want to help government move forward and improve but at the end of the day my ultimate goal is to hold them to account to the Legislative Assembly and there unto the public. The government has a responsibility to have effective proper stewardship of those funds. It is public money, not their money, and they have the responsibility to use that money appropriately in line with good principles."
He said that it was the controls in place that would prevent the system from being abused. A common theme in most of Swarbrick’s and his predecessor’s reports is the failure of leadership in government to oversee and control systems relating to how money is spent.
The audit office is one of the few checks and balances on how government spends the half billion dollars it collects from the people each year but Swarbrick also pointed to the work of the internal audit unit.
This department also examines weaknesses and vulnerability to fraud, abuse or mismanagement in public spending, which he said should be utilised by public service management. He said the unit’s findings were a useful tool to identify potential weaknesses and point to ways things could be improved, but government is not making good use of that tool.
The internal audit unit does not regularly publish its audits, though it has released some under Freedom of information requests. Their work often only comes to light as a result of the auditor general taking up the unit's findings.
With serious weaknesses and potential fraud and abuse by government being revealed in the last three reports, the next report on how government deals with capital projects is also likely to reveal further failings.
Swarbrick said that in the next report due at the end of this month his office has used the school projects and the new government building as case studies to measure how well government deals with major public sector developments.
Following that the office will be releasing the first two of four reports examining government spending in general which will examine more closely what are believed to be widespread weaknesses and vulnerabilities across the entire public sector.
The auditor is also hoping to publish an update on public sector financial reporting and details on where government is on the promised consolidated accounts for the 2010/11 financial year.
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