KUALA LUMPUR – Tan Sri Ambrin Buang, who retired recently after serving for 11 years as the Auditor-General, has expressed his hope for greater autonomy to be accorded to the National Audit Department.
He said the powers of the Department should be enhanced in terms of greater freedom from external controls, and greater autonomy in terms of management of human resources and budget.
In an interview with Bernama, Ambrin, who retired on Feb 22, said this was important to raise the status of the National Audit Department to a world-class national audit institution to be on par with those of developed countries.
The following is the transcript of the interview:
Question: It can be seen that the Auditor-General’s Report has greatly helped the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) carry out further investigations and take cases to court in the effort to combat leakages in the financial management of the country. One example is the case involving a senior officer at the Sabah Water Department. That was uncovered following a little audit investigation into the government agency and ministry. What does the National Audit Department require to conduct more comprehensive investigations?
Ambrin: Due to resource constraints such as limited personnel and budget, it is difficult for the National Audit Department to make thorough audits each year as they involve every department and agency at federal, state and local levels.
In terms of financial management, most departments and agencies are audited every three years to determine their accountability index, which is considered a sufficient period to monitor the improvements they have to make.
In terms of the performance audit of government departments and agencies’ activities, a number of studies will be conducted in accordance with the Department’s annual audit plan.
In addition, the Department also conducts special audits on the requests of certain bodies, such as the MACC, the Economic Planning Unit (EPU), and the Finance Ministry.
Question: Nowadays, almost every week, the MACC makes arrests and exposes pertaining to corruption. People seem to be satisfied with the action taken, which shows the MACC seriousness in fighting crime. Is it necessary for the National Audit Department to issue its report every week instead of thrice a year as practised now? That is, to make weekly disclosures on financial mismanagement by ministries and agencies.
Ambrin: The auditing process and audit report preparation have to be thorough and take time.
For example, four to five months are required for a performance audit before a report can be prepared, and it can only be finalised after holding exit conferences with the auditee, along with the MACC and central agency representatives.
Therefore, it is difficult for the National Audit Department to present audit reports more frequently than the current practice considering the department’s capability in terms of human resources and budget.
Question: It is seen that the National Audit Department will usually conduct an audit only after problems and losses arise. Can’t it take pre-emptive action before problems and losses occur?
Ambrin: Taking into account the National Audit Department’s limited capabilities to audit the departments and agencies all at once, it is difficult for it to take pre-emptive action.
However, if given information or tips, the National Audit Department would be able to conduct an investigation.
But the responsibility of taking pre-emptive action rests with the heads of departments and agencies who are the officers in control.
They can make use of available mechanisms such as the internal audit, finance and accounts management committees and audit committee to ensure that these mechanisms are really effective, and they can take corrective and punitive action accordingly.
Question: From your observation, to what extent have the ministries and agencies taken corrective action following the remarks made in the Auditor-General’s Report?
Ambrin: Over the past few years, the Government has made it compulsory for heads of government departments and agencies to take the corrective action, and they are continuously monitored by the National Audit Department and reported to the public through the AG’s Dashboard System that can be accessed at any time.
Question: What would you, Tan Sri, want the National Audit Department to be, for example, in 10 years’ time?
Ambrin: The National Audit Department is capable of becoming a world-class national audit institution on par with those of developed countries if it is free from controls and its autonomous rights are enhanced, especially in the management of human resources and budget.
This will require an amendment to the Federal Constitution.
Question: In your 11 years as the Auditor-General, what are your unforgettable experiences?
Ambrin: Among the incidents were the high-profile cases such as the audits on 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), Port Klang Free Zone (PKFZ) and National Feedlot Corporation (NFC).
Apart from that, implementing the accountability index system for public sector financial management, forming internal audit units, establishing the Asean Supreme Audit Institutions, being appointed chairman of the Asian Organisation of Supreme Audit Institutions and chairing the Auditor-General’s Report Follow-up Committee.
I am very grateful to the Malaysian Government for supporting initiatives to strengthen the role of the National Audit Department in improving public service efficiency and its effectiveness in managing finance and national development.
Question: What are your retirement plans?
Ambrin: Right now, my plan is to write a book on my experiences.