AG slams Parliament’s disregard for financial procedures

A mega UNDP (United Nations Development Program) funded project to modernize Sri Lanka’s Parliament has been severely criticized by Auditor General S. Swarnajothi, who has also commented adversely on a range of other questionable ‘transactions’ involving the House.

The AG also targeted the Foreign Relations and Protocol Division of the legislature for failing to submit payment vouchers relating to contributions and other expenses of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Union, Inter-Parliamentary Union and the SAARC Parliamentary Union between 1983 to 2006.

Swarnajothi, in a damning report handed over to the Parliament this month, had dealt with the UNDP project which he said had been implemented contrary to Financial Regulation. Blaming Parliament for receiving foreign aid outside annual estimates, the AG said that those responsible for the project had failed to maintain the required cash book, ledger accounts and other records and also quarterly financial statements in keeping with UNDP standards.

He also faulted Parliament and the UNDP for failing to set up a Steering Committee and Consultancy Group in terms of the project agreement reached in the backdrop of February 2002 Oslo-arranged Ceasefire Agreement between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE.

The AG said though a consultant had been paid Rs. 1,276,200 in 2004 and 2005 to prepare a Human Resources Development Plan for this project, it had not been implemented even at the end of last year.

Among other deficiencies pointed out by the AG were a payment of Rs. 600, 218 to another consultant in 2004 and 2005 to prepare a plan to develop the parliament library and training provided to four staffers in Australia at a cost of Rs. 180,000 in 2006. Parliament had not benefited by either investment due to delay in the implementation of the development plan, the AG said.

The AG said that though 10,000 brochures had been printed in 2006 at a cost of Rs 1,100,000 in support of a public awareness campaign, only 100 had been distributed by December 31, 2006 and the distribution hadn’t been completed by end of 2007.

Parliament had also spent Rs. 671,000 in 2005 and 2006 to produce a compact disc on the parliamentary system though it hadn’t been distributed among 256 national schools even by the middle of 2007, the AG said, adding that the expenditure on two items amounting to Rs. 3,127,173 hadn’t been identified.

The AG has also pointed out inadequacies in an ICT strategic plan developed by the Information and Communication Technology Agency (ICTA) in consultation with another firm of consultants. Of the 13 projects identified by them, Parliament had decided to implement only four, the AG said. Two of these had been completed.

The AG said that though audit of the expenditure incurred by Parliament is vested with the AG in terms of the Article 154 of the Constitution, the House had failed to keep him informed of such expenditure.

Though Rs. 38 million had been obtained in 2007 for the payment of membership contributions to three international parliamentary unions, only Rs 9.2 million had been paid.

Three bank accounts had been opened without securing approval of the Treasury, the AG said. The Foreign Relations and Protocol Division had been also faulted for recruiting workers without the necessary approval.

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