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Audit of 2001 Budget released

Audit of 2001 Budget released

The long-awaited audit of the Ministry of Economy and Finance's (MEF) draft

budget for 2001 was released to the National Assembly at the end of

December.

But critics denounced it as an incomplete audit that gave

little insight into the true workings of the MEF. The National Audit Authority

(NAA) claimed the audit was done to the best of the abilities of the fledgling

authority.

The report, released to the banking and finance committees at

both the Assembly and the Senate, was compiled by the NAA, the donor-approved

watchdog with the responsibility to oversee the financial dealings of government

ministries.

The report was the first to be released by the NAA since the

appointment of its auditor-general in August 2001, and took seven months to

complete. It analyzed MEF expenditure and revenue collection in

2001.

Chan Tani, NAA secretary-general, said the public and Assembly

would decide whether the report was up to scratch.

"This is the first

year this country has been through audit so everything is new. We did our best

and reported what we found."

But critics at the Assembly and within the

NAA decried the lack of investigation into customs, tax, and other revenue

collection.

A source within the banking and finance commission, who

spoke on condition on anonymity, said the report was disappointing.

"It

was very short and not up to date," he said. "I am not happy because ... there

is no detail. The report has almost no content. It cannot be evidence that the

expenditure was accurate."

The report stated that customs offices at

Pochentong Airport, Sihanoukville Port, and road checkpoints were audited, but

other offices around the country were not.

Similarly, only the tax and

customs department in Phnom Penh was audited, with no data collected from the

provinces. The report also stated there was not enough data to fully audit

forestry, fisheries and mine concessions.

Sin Po, deputy auditor-general

of the NAA, said he was unsure whether it gave a full picture.

"It's not

a complete audit, they only generalize," he said. "In order to do auditing work,

we have to go to the bottom, not just look at things superficially.

"The

auditor mentioned that he did not make a complete audit of tax collection. They

said that [at some] offices they did not do auditing, therefore they cannot

evaluate the whole complete picture of tax collection."

Chan Tani

defended the NAA's investigations, and said taking samples was

standard.

"In an audit you don't audit everything," he said. "You don't

have the manpower and the time, so we take a sample, just as any auditor

would."

The NAA was also criticized for releasing the report after the

National Assembly debated and passed the 2003 Budget.

"Logically it

should have been presented [before the 2003 Budget debate]," said Po, "but

unfortunately it was not available."

The Asian Development Bank (ADB),

which provided financial and technical assistance to the agency, attributed the

delay to the infancy of the authority.

"It is just the beginning," said

ADB country head Urooj Malik. "It is one of the first audits that the NAA has

done. A lot more has to be done ... capacity has to be built up."

But Po

insisted internal wrangling was responsible for the delay, and disagreed with

the suggestion that inadequate human resources were to blame.

"If you

have a goal you can do a lot," he said. " I think we do have sufficient

resources to ... get a clear picture of what is going on."

Cheam Yeap,

chairman of the National Assembly's banking and finance committee, conceded that

the report was not perfect, but said it would take time to develop satisfactory

auditing skills.

"There are some problems," he said. "It is not of the

high standard the government wants [but] the NAA is new for Cambodia and all the

people working there have not much experience."

The NAA will next audit

the Ministry of Agriculture, Forests and Fisheries and the Ministry of Posts and

Telecommunications.

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