The role of the Audit Office. Shooting the messenger?

The Samoa Audit Office is an integral part of the democracy that we know today in Samoa.

It is a democracy built on the rule of law and good governance and strives for peace, prosperity and stability which are vital for a nation’s progress.

Any government in any nation – which commits to transparency and accountability as part of its good governance platform – chooses the rule of law over dishonesty, fraud and all forms of illegal practices that become a barrier to development.

The functions of the Audit Office has become so critical to our development as a nation that its mandate was incorporated into Samoa’s Constitution [Articles 93, 97-99], ensuring that it continues to play its oversight role through “auditing public assets, liabilities and equity including public money.”

At the Samoa Observer, we recognise the importance of the Audit Office, and the work it does to keep all Government Ministries and state agencies accountable over their use of public funds.

And our acknowledgement of its important role is done through our publishing of various Audit Office reports over the years.

As a media organisation, we have a responsibility to our readers and the nation to continue to publish audit report findings, as government expenditure involves public funding for which there should always be accountability. It would be irresponsible for us to forgo our responsibility to the taxpayers and citizens of this nation. 

This week the two heads of Government entities Samoa National Provident Fund [S.N.P.F.] and Samoa Airways wrote to the Samoa Observer and a released media statement, describing a Samoa Observer article on the findings of an audit as “fake news”, and raising questions about the authenticity of a report on staff discount travel benefits following an audit.

The S.N.P.F. Audit Report was for the Financial Year 2018-2019 and uncovered the use of public funds to purchase uniforms, monetary gifts [$5,000] and party [alcohol] on top of a loss of $552,882 from the Senior Citizen Benefit Fund. 

The S.N.P.F. Chief Executive Officer, Pauli Prince Suhren, has disputed the $552,882 loss as he claims its budget is allocated by the Ministry of Finance and also defended the purchase of staff uniforms. 

“The above and all the other matters raised have already been clarified with the Audit Office and in front of relevant parliamentary committees as is the usual process year-on-year,” Pauli wrote at the end of his letter to the editor.

“Next time you should ask the Audit Office for a clarification instead of rushing to conclusions in an attempt to put a negative light on the Fund.”

The Samoa Airways C.E.O., Tupuivao Seiuli Tuala, criticised this newspaper for focusing on the 50 per cent discounted travel offered to employees and claimed that it only applied to the airline’s Pago route and was discontinued in 2016.

“The 50% staff travel benefit is on our Pago route only and has been in place since 2005. This does not apply to any international destinations that the airline operates to. In 2016, this benefit for staff was removed. Tupuivao further stated that our staff pay for these seats to Pago and fly when there are seats available on the day of the flight.  What needs to be understood is, this is standard industry practice, globally.”

We welcome any form of feedback from the Chief Executive Officers of Ministries or the heads of any Government agencies in response to questions raised by our reporters in relation to audit reports. And we always strive to publish your response for the benefit of our readers and the public at large.

But calling us names and becoming defensive about the responsibilities of your office, in relation to the findings of an audit inquiry by the Audit Office, will not help anyone and becomes a case of shooting the messenger.

There is criticism that often our staff do not give ample time for a right of reply from the respect organisation, but we must point out too that there have been occasions in recent years when our queries go unanswered for days.

Nonetheless, the Audit Office has a job to do as part of its mandate to the Legislative Assembly which represents the citizens of this nation, and we believe we have ours too as a newspaper charged with the responsibility to disseminate news and to seek the truth.

Ultimately, the publication of audit reports by the Samoa Audit Office form a very important of our democratic processes in terms of transparency, accountability and good governance. 

And as a member of the Fourth Estate, there is an expectation on us to take on the role of a watchdog to keep leaders and governments accountable.

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