Let us not forget the purpose of the forensic audit

By The Editorial Board 30 April 2024, 10:00AM

What is a forensic audit? It is best defined as an examination and evaluation of financial records. During a forensic audit, an auditor seeks to derive evidence that could potentially be used in court. A forensic audit is used to uncover criminal behaviour such as fraud or embezzlement.

The government has confirmed that 13 projects that happened under the previous administration are now going through a process of forensic audit.

The contract, awarded at a total cost of $696,000 inclusive of a 10 per cent withholding tax for potential extensions, was intended to delve into projects such as the construction of Vaiaata Prison, Ti'avea Airport, Satitoa Wharf, and the National ID Project, among others. These projects, previously subject to speculation and scrutiny, were deemed priorities for reassessment.

Accounting firm BDO New Zealand is looking to see if criminal behaviour and fraud are present in any aspect of the project from policy violations to logistical procurement.

It is common knowledge that some of these projects happened under cabinet ministers who are now in government.

Is this why Opposition Leader Tuilaepa Sa'ilele Malielegaoi said they are not worried about the outcomes of the forensic audit?

Tuilaepa who was the Prime Minister when the projects under scrutiny were implemented. He scoffed at the initiative saying it was a waste of money and time.

He hinted that certain projects under investigation were executed by individuals who now are members of the current government, having served in his Cabinet in the last parliamentary term.

We have now determined that forensic audits cover a wide range of investigative activities. A forensic audit is often conducted to prosecute a party for fraud, embezzlement, or other financial crimes. In the process of a forensic audit, the auditor may be called to serve as an expert witness during trial proceedings.

Do we get a sense that at the outcome of the forensic audits, if there were cases of fraud, embezzlement, and other illegal discoveries made, they would be made public and people responsible for the illegal acts taken to court and charged under the Crimes Act?

That should be the way it should happen, after all, it is a forensic audit.

The Minister of Finance, Lautimuia Uelese Vaai has said beyond dispelling doubts surrounding these projects, the forensic audit aims to identify areas for governmental improvement. It will scrutinise compliance with government policies, legislation, and procurement procedures, ensuring transparency and adherence to best practices.

He said the audit's comprehensive scope encompasses evaluations of financial disbursements, procurement processes, and policy consistency, all vital elements in safeguarding public funds and fostering accountable governance.

He said by shedding light on past practices and recommending reforms, the audit sets a precedent for transparent and efficient government operations moving forward.

Close to $700,000 of public funds has been paid to the accounting firm and if the outcomes would be used to just shed light and recommend reforms, then why take the steps of having a forensic audit?

If the forensic audit finds that people did not follow procedure and fraud did happen, refer them to the law. That is the whole reason why so much money has been spent on ensuring that evidence of wrongdoing is found.

A Cabinet directive based on a meeting dated 18 May 2022 stated the forensic audit would look into developments such as the Vaiaata prison that never went through the tender process, the $25 million maximum security Tanumalala Prison and Corrections facility, the Tiavea airport project in Aleipata which attracted $17 million in public funds as well as the leasing of an aircraft by Samoa Airways, the $17 million Satitoa Wharf Project and the $12 million National ID Project.

The $7.8 million Samoa National Provident Fund (S.N.P.F.) headquarters in Savai’i, which has had its opening delayed several times is another development that was listed to be assessed in the forensic audit.

Others on the list include the new Office of Electoral Commission in Mulinu’u, which cost the Government $4 million as well as the Samoa National Broadband Highway and Schoolnet Project, together with the underground cable network arrangement and radar.

The Finance Minister did say the findings from the audit investigation would be made public, well there is no other way audits have been done elsewhere, they need to be made public.

The public wants to know if people are found responsible even if they are part of the current government, would they be held accountable?

And will this process be part of the annual audit to ensure accountability and transparency?

By The Editorial Board 30 April 2024, 10:00AM
Samoa Observer

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