Audit Commission and COPE to probe WPC expenditure | Page 2 | Sunday Observer

Audit Commission and COPE to probe WPC expenditure

The Independent Audit Commission and the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) will intervene and audit the Provincial Council expenditures in the future, on a decision taken after the shocking claims by the Western Province Chief Minister of their arbitrary spending of people’s money recently.

The Auditor General Gamini Wijesinghe told Sunday Observer that, in the after math of the Western Province Chief Minister Isura Devapriya’s highly publicized comments on the purchase of luxury chairs for the new Council Chamber, the matter was taken up by the COPE and the Audit Commission. It has been highlighted that there need to be an official intervention to assess the effectiveness and efficiency of the utilisation of funds in Provincial Councils.

“We will have to strictly follow value for money audit, even though under the 13th Amendment we can do very little to force them to implement our recommendations,” he said.

Under the 13th Amendment the Provincial Councils have been given wider powers to utilize the funds they raise as well as the funds from the Consolidated Fund (Central Government) as they prefer. An audit can be initiated but the recommendations are not binding on the PCs.

The matter of the arbitrary spending on a new building came to the fore, when Western Province JVP Councilor Laxman Nipunaarachchi wrote to the Western Province Governor Hema Kumara Nanayakkara to look into a case of ordering over 100 super luxury chairs from Belgium at a cost of nearly Rs.650,000 each. The chairs were intended for the new Council Chamber that was to be housed on the 13th floor of a new building constructed at the old Provincial Council premises.

The 15 storey Building was constructed with a noble cause, to bring the five Ministries and various Authorities under the WPC to one place, for the benefit of the people it serve. The Ministries and the other institutions have already shifted to the new place and are already functioning. The hair rising purchase of chairs were for the new Council Chamber.

At the moment the deal has been put on hold, pending an inquiry by the Western Province Governor. But given that the tender has been awarded to the world renowned company and the Letter of Credit (LC) is perhaps signed, cancellation of the order would cause greater loss to the WPC, experts pointed out.

Asked if the losses can be recovered from the officials responsible for the deal using the new Audit Act provisons, in such a situation, the Auditor General said he will look into that prospect. The new Audit Act provides for recovery of losses from the state officials responsible and the Ministers of the Central Government can also be held accountable for any financial loss to the state.

A senior state official said the COPE has the jurisdiction to look into the expenditures of the institutions under the Provincial Councils but there has been little oversight on these state enterprises, adding that such transactions are referred to the COPE only when there is an issue.

“There is a well defined system of financial audit for local government bodies and the institutions under the Central Government. But the PCs are more or less exempted from such strict scrutiny,” Nipunaarachchi said.

The next meeting of the WPC is scheduled to be held on August 21. The JVP Councillor is expected to raise this matter of the luxury chairs at the Council meeting on Tuesday.” I hope to demand the Chief Minister to reveal the details of the chairs- deal; the tender process, who was informed and who approved the transaction, at the meeting,” he said.

Nipunaarachchi said, despite claims by the Chief Minisiter that the entire WPC has to take the responsibility for this, even some members of the Board of Ministers have not been kept in the loop of the deal. Certain members have told him that they learned about the deal from the media reports.

The JVP member in the WPC claims four existing positions - the Chief Government Whip, Leader of the House, Opposition Leader, Chief Opposition Whip – in the WPC were illegal since such posts were non existant under the 13th Amendmwent to the Constitution.

He has pointed out that expenditures incurred as a result of salaries and other expenses to them and their staff were a waste of public funds. In a letter to the Auditor General dated August 9, the JVP has sought his intervention to halt any future payments to these four officials and their staff. The Auditor General said they were in the process of inquiring into the claims of the JVP.