The struggle to instill financial discipline in government remains one of Liberia’s biggest obligations to dislodge past vices that have eroded public trust and confidence in running the affairs of the state in many decades.
The struggle being championed to ensure good governance seems to have prompted the establishment of the Internal Audit program that has been backed by the 2009 Public Financial Management (PFM) Act (section 38), which acknowledged the potential for a centralized internal audit scheme in the public sector.
The program being supported by the PFM Act is aimed at building financial management capacity within ministries and agencies of government to support other national priorities, according to Mr. Paul C. Collins, Executive Director of the Internal Audit Secretariat.
Mr. Collins told journalists yesterday during a PowerPoint presentation of activities of the Secretariat at the entity’s offices in Monrovia that a number of achievements have been made in saving the government from losing millions of dollars at public functionaries, yet he said there are challenges to overcome as well.
According to him, the Secretariat has deployed two internal auditors each (director and deputy director) at eight ministries as Phase One of its mandate. These ministries include Finance, Health & Social Welfare, Lands & Mines, Public Works, Education, Internal Affairs, Foreign Affairs and Agriculture.
Mr. Collins also disclosed that the Secretariat has completed the recruitment of additional directors and deputy directors for seven ministries to be deployed in July this year.
The strategy of the Secretariat, he indicated, calls for a five-member Internal Audit Governance Board, chaired by Finance Minister, which members include Civil Servant Agency Director General, Public Procurement and Concession Commission Chairman, the Auditor General and an additional person from the business community to provide strategic and policy guidance to the IA Secretariat.
In spite of these achievements outlined, the Secretariat is said to have enormous challenges as Mr. Collins indicated during his interaction with media representatives.
Some of the challenges, he noted, include the question often asked as to the Secretariat’s legal status, which he said some key public officials usually argue when internal auditors approach them.
Mr. Collins has also observed that there is a resistance to change the culture of non-adherence to systems and controls, while insufficiency of resources also hinders progress.
On the overall, Mr. Collins has observed that everybody claims to be an audit expert, wanting to control the audit scope, direct its activities and decide how an audit should be done.
Meanwhile, the Executive Director of the Secretariat said the entity cooperates and collaborates with the General Auditing Commission (GAC) to promote fiscal discipline in the interest of the Liberian people.
However, commenting on the differences between both entities, Mr. Collins said GAC reports to the public while the Secretariat reports to the Executive Branch of government.
According to him, the GAC conducts periodical audit while IA conducts continuous audit at ministries and agencies to ensure risk management, governance and control processes.
He revealed that the key audit priority areas of the IA that have been identified include payroll system, bank reconciliations, procurement processes, pre-auditing of disbursement transactions, account and budgetary control system, asset management system and prior audit recommendations.