Is independence of Auditor-General sacrosanct? A critical review of role

BY: Valentin Kwasi Mensah (PhD)
Mr Daniel Domelevo — Auditor General
Mr Daniel Domelevo — Auditor General

In the previous part of this article published last week, the issues of the surcharges and disallowances and the decisions of the courts nullifying and cancelling audit reports and certificates of surcharge and disallowance were discussed.

Unrecovered amounts from irregularities, surcharges and disallowances

Unfortunately, several recent court rulings have recently nullified the A-G’s reports in appeal cases on the basis that the audit and subsequent issues of notices of surcharge and disallowance did not follow due process.

Besides, the A-G was lately found in contempt of court for his failure to respond within time during an appeal case against the certificate of surcharge and disallowance of US$1 million issued to the Senior Minister.

During its last deliberations in December 2019 on the Ghana Audit Services’ 2020 Budget Estimates, the Special Budget Committee of Parliament noted that out of the amount of GH¢8,465,250,157 identified as irregularities in the various reports submitted to Parliament in 2018, only GH¢67,315,066.12 (7.95 per cent) had been recovered by GAS from the perpetrators. Furthermore, they noted that nothing was recovered from the surcharge and disallowances of GHc511,211,239.04 as announced by the A-G on November 30, 2018.

It is very disturbing that the civil society organisations and the media that hailed the A-G for a good job done with the revelations have been quiet and not put pressure on the A-G to go back and right the wrongs so the taxpayer’s monies are returned to the coffers. More disturbing is the fact that the professionals of the various accounting and auditing institutions in the country have never spoken on any issue regarding the pursuits of the A-G in ensuring the collectability of the above surcharged and disallowed amounts and its timely return to the public purse. Quoting Howard Zinn:

“Our problem is that people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of leaders. Millions have been killed because of this obedience. Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world in the face of poverty, starvation, stupidity, war and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obediently filling our jails full of petty thieves while the grand thieves are running the country”. That’s our problem.

Accounting professionals need to use their skills and expertise to help the A-G fight this issue of corruption which has engulfed our one and only country Ghana. During a public lecture organised by the Institute of Chartered Accountants Ghana (ICAG) in September 2018, the A-G entreated Ghanaian accounting and auditing professionals to speak up on matters concerning the profession:

“Why is it that there are serious professional developments concerning the accounting and auditing profession taking place in the country and the professional accountants are silent on the matter? “Professionals such as myself and others in the profession have looked away for too long for the wrong things to be done. As a professional body, topical issues on auditing and accountancy arise in this country and we best understand such issues but all we do is to shut up,” Mr Domelevo said.

Perhaps, it is about time the Institute of Chartered Accountants Ghana (ICAG) became more active in relevant national matters and make the nation feel their impact as a strong professional establishment in nation building (not just an institution producing qualified professionals whose aims are to occupy top positions at workplaces) and join hands with the CSOs and the media who may be limited in the intricacies of the accounting and auditing profession to go back and assist the A-G so these monies do not become one of those issues that are raised and left to die but retrieved and paid back into the consolidated fund.

As Lord Denning said, “Silence is not an option when things are ill done”.

The President on Monday, June 29, 2020, directed the Auditor-General, Daniel Domelevo to proceed on his 123-day accumulated annual leave. The leave period was subsequently extended by 44 days. Some civil society organisations in the country were not happy with the directive and asked the President to reconsider the decision. Occupy Ghana, in a statement on Friday, July 10, 2020, said it had not been able to reconcile the directive to the Auditor-General and had this to say: “We find it difficult reconciling that directive with the constitutional injunction under which in the performance of his functions, which necessarily includes the mundane matter of whether, when, and how he takes his leave, the Auditor-General is insulated from the ‘direction and control of any person or authority.”

“First, leave is a constitutional right and not a statutory obligation. With respect to the Auditor-General, article 187(12) of the Constitution specifically mentions, recognises and protects ‘his rights in respect of leave of absence.’ These words are repeated verbatim in section 10(7) of the Audit Service Act.”

More than 2,600 persons signed a petition urging President Nana Akufo-Addo to reverse the directive with immediate effect.

However, Paul Adom-Otchere found the collective decision by Civil Society Organisations in Ghana (CSOs) to support the A-G as very dangerous to Ghana’s development. Speaking on Good Evening Ghana on Thursday, July 9, Adom-Otchere indicated that “What civil society did is particularly dangerous to the development of our society. Very, very dangerous”

Where is the voice of the professional accountants and auditors on this matter?

As Martin Luther King Jnr. said, “There comes a time when silence is a betrayal” and “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."

Part 4 of the article will discuss the functions of Parliament and the Board of Ghana Audit Service, as well as their relationships with the Attorney-General.