Public audit law in the offing
The government is set to enact the first-ever public audit law that will usher in more transparency and accountability in public expenditure and expand the scope of the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General of Bangladesh.
The draft of the Public Audit Bill 2023 was uploaded to the website of the finance division soliciting opinions from concerned government offices and the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry by May 7.
At present, the CAG is performing its duties with the constitutional mandate and with the Comptroller and Auditor-General (Additional Functions) Act, 1974. The new law would supplant it.
After the law is enacted, CAG will be able to audit public-private partnership arrangements that were initiated under the Bangladesh Public-Private Partnership Act, 2015 or PPP Agreement, Public-Private Partnership System and others.
The CAG will get to audit the government funds provided to private institutions or organisations like NGOs, foundations, trusts, charities and civil society organisations or any other private institution or organisation.
It will be able to verify whether the conditions on which the grant or loan was extended were being fulfilled satisfactorily.
The new law will make the audit process specific.
Following the best international practices, the CAG can communicate, coordinate or sign cooperation deals with similar national and international institutions and agencies, as per the draft.
In principle, the new law has created the scope for increasing accountability and transparency. But there are risks of abuses.
Iftekharuzzaman, executive director of Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB), the local chapter of the global anti-corruption watchdog, welcomed the move.
"There are a few areas that need to be more closely considered. For instance, terms like frugality, efficiency and effectiveness should be clearly defined to ensure robustness in the performance audit."
More specific provisions should be included to meet the stated objective of accountability and transparency, he said.
For instance, the OCAG should be given the authority to recommend appropriate corrective actions to be taken by the respective supervisory authorities in case the auditee fails to take effective actions based on the audit.
CAG should have full financial independence not only on charged expenditures but also on regular financial matters like payments of subscription for membership of relevant international and regional professional bodies for which separate government approval is redundant, he added.
Zahid Hussain, a former lead economist of the World Bank's Dhaka office, emphasised the proper implementation of the law.
"In principle, the new law has created the scope for increasing accountability and transparency. But there are risks of abuses. If there is a systematic audit process, then we will get positive results in increasing accountability of public expenditure. But if it is used to harass anyone, it will bring opposite results."
The authority of enacting the rules under the law should be in the hands of the CAG rather than the government, he said.
"CAG has the capacity -- it has the jurisdiction. If anyone else makes the rule, check and balance will be hampered."