Saunders lauds ministry after auditor general’s report

Finance Minister Christopher Saunders commended the public service for steadily improving financial management and reporting, following the latest report by the Office of the Auditor General.

In a series of three publications, the auditor general is evaluating the effectiveness and transparency of the budgeting process, financial management and reporting, as well as the monitoring and measuring of financial performance and long-term fiscal sustainability.

The second report on Improving Financial Accountability and Transparency: Financial Management and Reporting was released last week. 

It noted that of 18 recommendations made by the auditor general’s office, five have been fully adopted and six have been partly implemented.

The report concluded that the Ministry of Finance had improved its financial leadership across government and the wider public sector and issued several new policies and guidelines that will help strengthen financial management across government once they are fully implemented.

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Responding to the report, Saunders said in a press release: “Strong financial management and reporting are the established cornerstones of good governance, and the latest report from the OAG, rounds out the true picture behind the government’s management and reporting efficacy.”

The OAG report states that over the last decade, the quality of financial reporting has markedly improved, which has resulted in a reduction in the number of qualified audit opinions – from 16 in 2013/14 to none in 2019.

For the 2019 financial year, the majority – 38 of 41 – of public bodies submitted their 2019 financial statement for audit on time, which improved for the 2020 financial year, to all entities submitting their financial statements for audit by the statutory deadline.

Also, of the 37 audits of 2019 financial statements completed by the end of February 2021, all had received an unqualified audit opinion, which the auditor general called a “significant improvement”. In contrast, in 2009-10, the majority of financial statements were either qualified or disclaimed.

“Yet, the OAG notes there is room for improvement, a situation we in the PACT Government take on board seriously,” Saunders said.

This included the tabling of all annual reports in Parliament. As of February 2021, only 118 of 160 sets, or 74% of audited financial statements for 2015/16 to 2019, have been tabled, leaving 17 sets of audited financial statements for 2019 not yet tabled.

Coming from a background of involvement in the Public Accounts Committee scrutiny of the government’s financial management and reporting throughout his career as a lawmaker, the finance minister said he is acutely aware of the need to consistently improve and ensure that the principles of responsible financial management are enshrined in the work of the current government.

“Audit oversight is an important tool in public finance management and the cornerstone of checks and balances in our democracy,” he added.

Franz Manderson, deputy governor and head of the civil service, said in the release he is encouraged by the tenor of the auditor general’s reports. “I welcome the positive comments on the state of management and reporting within core civil service, which are reflective of the success of our efforts to continually improve our processes in this area,” he said.

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