Small projects, small bribes; big projects, big bribes. That is how government auditors go about taking bribes between Tk 10,000 and 500,000 during audits.
The finding came in a survey by the Transparency International Bangladesh. The study has revealed various corrupt practices at the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General (OCAG), the highest audit body in the country.
"The OCAG is responsible for detecting anomalies in the spending of taxpayers' money. But it is sunk into irregularities itself. This is unacceptable," TIB Executive Director Iftekharuzzaman said yesterday, after the findings were presented at his office in the capital.
The survey results highlight how the constitutionally independent office has become tainted with irregularities for external and internal factors, when its job is to prevent financial anomalies in government offices, statutory bodies and foreign-funded projects.
The research was done between March 2013 and December 2014 and is based on interviews of 68 government and semi-government officials, 24 incumbent and former officials of the OCAG and ministries and also two experts.
Iftekharuzzaman said the draft report was shared with the OCAG in December last year in the presence of Comptroller and Auditor General Masud Ahmed. Their opinions were included in the final report.
Masud has opined that the report should be published, added Iftekharuzzaman.
The survey found the auditors in exchange for bribe leave out objections involving big amounts and include less important issues instead in the audit reports. This makes it easier for the auditee organisations to come up with “acceptable” explanations. Sometimes, the audit teams prepare answers for these organisations.
It is also very common for the audit teams to accept gifts and costs of food and accommodation during audit inspections. But the auditors never face any action for their corruption and irregularities, the survey found.
Corruption is rife also in the recruitment process at the OCAG. For example, candidates have to pay between Tk 3 lakh and 5 lakh for jobs as auditors, junior auditors and drivers.
Last year, 413 auditors and junior auditors were hired at the office of the Controller General Defence Finance, a wing of OCAG.
"A huge amount of money changed hands during the recruitment. Many paid bribes of Tk 4 lakh to 5 lakh," the report says.
The office of the Additional Director General (Finance) Railway, another OCAG arm, recruited about 500 people as auditors and junior auditors in 2012. Nearly half of them paid kickbacks between Tk 3 lakh and 4 lakh. And in all this, senior officials of the OCAG are involved, the study reveals.
Political interference in recruitment is also prevalent.
Besides, ministries do not reply to the audit objections. They also do not implement recommendations by the Public Accounts Committee of parliament to realise illegally spent and misappropriated money.
The report also highlights the many challenges facing the OCAG, one being a lack of workforce.
The government budget and the number of offices and employees go up every year, thus increasing the responsibility of the auditors. But the workforce of the OCAG has not increased as required. Presently, a third of its approved posts are vacant.
The OCAG is responsible for auditing more than 30,000 offices and projects but it can barely audit 10 percent of those, said Dipu Roy, a TIB programme manager, who presented the findings.
Despite being an independent body, the OCAG has to share its audit findings with the Prime Minister's Office although the PMO itself is audited by the auditors, said TIB Chairperson Sultana Kamal.
"As a result, the constitutional right of the OCAG is violated because the power still remains with the executive authority," she said.
On the positive side, the OCAG has realised and adjusted Tk 18,527 crore in five years till 2013. It has also included automatic system in the auditing process in 2012 and set up a media cell.
"It has brought in some positive changes in recent years, which are commendable. But they are not enough," said Iftekharuzzaman.