The National Audit Bill was passed in Parliament yesterday without a vote, with the inclusion of several amendments. Opening the debate on the Bill, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in Parliament yesterday stated that the Yahapalanaya Government had been able to introduce the National Audit Bill despite successive governments failing in the task since 2003.
“The Bill was initially proposed by the then Government in 2003. I tried to bring it in as the Prime Minister of that government but was unable to do so. Thereafter successive governments failed to introduce the National Audit Bill until this Government decided to do so after being elected in 2015.”
He said that President Maithripala Sirisena too had been keen to establish the Right to Information Commission and the National Audit Commission.
“President Sirisena, along with the Government, wanted to push for the establishment of independent commissions. We established the Right to Information Commission, the Elections Commission, the Independent Police Commission and now we have the National Audit Commission which will be set up soon.”
He went on to note that the National Audit Commission was established under the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.
“The National Audit Commission comes under the power of this Parliament. An effective audit is a crucial part of a country. The Parliament can also bring amendments to the National Audit Bill in the future if there is a necessity after it is passed today,” he said.
However, the JVP warned the masses not to have high hopes that the National Audit Act would curb corruption as the version of the National Audit Bill presented to Parliament was a diluted version.
Taking part in the Second Reading debate of the National Audit Bill, JVP MP Sunil Handunetti said that the original draft of the Bill had numerous provisions to prevent fraud and corruption.
“There was an undue delay in presenting the Bill to Parliament and during that delay the Bill was stripped of its powers. It was marketed as a superman against corruption but what we now have before us is a straw man. This is only a dummy of the original bill. This is nothing but a scarecrow. It has no powers,” MP Handunnetti charged.
Further criticising the Bill, MP Handunetti said that the JVP would propose 16 amendments to the Bill to strengthen it against corruption.
“It is the duty of Parliament to give real life to this scarecrow. The substance of the original Bill has been removed. For that purpose we propose 16 amendments to the Bill. If the Bill is passed without incorporating the amendments we propose, then those who are waiting to rob the public institutions and continue their corruption need not fear for this new law. If this Bill is passed as it is now, then even an individual who robs the Central Bank and is found guilty for that crime would get only a maximum fine of Rs. 5,000. At least they should make it the minimum fine. The original Bill had a maximum fine of Rs. 100,000. It has now been reduced to Rs. 5,000. Who did that? The Government has brought an amendment to that effect. The worst of this Bill is that it contains provisions to narrow down the scope of the Auditor General. Some of the subjects have been taken out from his auditing scope. Could anyone against corruption and fraud expect anything worse than that?” MP Handunetti said.
In response, Higher Education Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapaksa said the Penal Code and Code of Criminal Procedure contained provisions to take action for the offenses MP Handunetti had pointed out.
“Do not belittle this Bill in that manner. This Bill would not overrule existing Acts and their provisions. The Penal Code and Code of Criminal Procedure would continue to exist. They have provisions for what you demand to do,” Minister Rajapakshe said.
Meanwhile, Social Empowerment Deputy Minister Ranjan Ramanayake suggested that a clause be included empowering the Auditor General (AG) to audit and probe the fund received by political parties.
He said that the AG should be vested with powers to examine political party funds as there are no laws to do so at present and political parties refuse to reveal funding they receive from individuals, groups or organisations and how such monies are spent.
“The Auditor General should be given powers to examine where the parties get funds for their election campaigns, how much and how they have spent them as none of the parties disclose these details,” Minister Ramanayake said.
The Minister said that had the AG been given such powers, he would have been able to investigate claims made by the New York Times to the effect that former President Mahinda Rajapaksa had received campaign finances from a Chinese company.
“The current Auditor General would have been able to carry out an investigation into the New York Times report which suggested that former President Mahinda Rajapaksa had received funds from a Chinese company for his presidential campaign. He would have also been able to investigate the latest information that the Chinese Company which constructed the Hambantota Port had given $ 38 million to a prominent Buddhist monk and Rs. 18 million to a trust which is run by Pushpa Rajapaksa, former minister Basil Rajapaksa’s wife,” he added.
In addition, Deputy Minister Ramanayake recommended that the AG also be given leeway to directly order the Inspector General of Police to carry out investigations into alleged financial crimes uncovered by the AG’s Department.
“The Auditor General in Kenya has such powers and Sri Lanka should follow its example,” Ramanayake said.