The Auditor General Niyaz Ibrahim has expressed concern over poor record keeping at State Owned Enterprises (SOEs), and said the public is entitled to know how much the state makes from an enterprise it owns or if the enterprise is making a profit or loss.
Speaking to Minivan News today, Niyaz said the independent audit office faces severe challenges in auditing SOEs, especially those in which the state is a minority share holder.
In some cases, even when a company is liquidated, there are no financial statements or audits, he said.
“As you know, there are over 80 companies in which the government owns shares, including minority share holding enterprises. While we don’t have adequate legal authority to appoint external auditors to the companies in which the state is a minority share-holder, the Audit Act allows us to do so with majority State-owned enterprises,” Niyaz explained.
It was the norm of the board of directors to appoint an external auditor, inhibiting the auditor’s work as they are bound to follow instructions from and report to the company’s board. However. starting in 2011 the Auditor General’s Office (AGO) has begun appointing external auditors to SOEs, thereby giving auditors more protection and independence.
The AGO will have auditors at all SOE’s except for Island Aviation for the 2013 accounts, Niyaz said.
The Company Act mandates audits be conducted annually, however there is no way to see how many SOEs are faring as they do not even produce financial statements, Niyaz said.
“Many of the companies which have been formed recently are in this very poor state of financial record keeping,” he continued. Even while some of these companies are now to be liquidated, there is no record of financial statements, nor has there been any audits. This is state resources we are speaking of. The people have a right to know what is being done with this money. Usually, public listed companies get more attention as they sell shares to people. How we see it, though, is that every citizen has ownership of state enterprises, and thereby public interest is much higher in such companies,” he said.
SOE’s must be far more transparent and accountable than listed companies, Niyaz stressed
The AGO has now commenced work on preparing a report documenting the status of all SOEs, he added.
“The public is entitled to get the basic information as to how much the state makes from an enterprise it owns, whether the enterprise is making profit or loss, whether it is accountable and transparent.”
Niyaz said there were many unexplained cases where the state owned minority shares, especially in the tourism industry.
“There is room to suspect that the legal provision within tourism laws of special provisions in the assignment of islands for tourism sector if the state owns some shares of the company or island is being abused,” Niyaz alleged.
Challenges in auditing state enterprises
Niyaz said that the Auditor General’s office has a practice of submitting a detailed work plan of all programs planned for the upcoming year with their budget proposal, and that the special audit of state-owned enterprises has not been included in the submitted proposal.
He said that his office will need to find means to fund the process in other ways, as plans for this were made after the budget proposal had already been submitted in late October.
Niyaz further noted the lack of cooperation extended to external auditors from the management and board of some state owned companies.
“Jobs for politicians”
The management of SOEs need to be strengthened, especially that of the board of directors, Niyaz said. SOEs must not be formed to create jobs for politicians, Niyaz said.
“As evident, if the top management of a company, enterprise or even an institution keeps being changed every now and then, it proves to be a strategical loss to that entity. Each of these management will have plans for its development, but if this keeps changing frequently, there will be no stability there. Therefore, there really needs to be a change in how the state runs the enterprises it holds shares in or owns,” he continued.
The state must end the appointment of individuals to management level jobs at SOEs on the basis of their political affiliation, Niyaz said.
“Even the board must consist of financially literate people who understand what it means to run a business, if the company’s governance is to be improved. I will give you an example of the level some current board members have, and this doesn’t change no matter which government is in place. A team from my office met with a company’s board members recently, after multiple attempts to meet them previously. For purposes of auditing, they asked the board for the financial statement. Members of the board then said at my staff members, ‘who do you think you are to come here and question us? We don’t have to give you any financial statements’ and then threatened to throw them out of a window. This is the calibre of some appointees to the boards of state enterprises. It is way beyond their authority to speak in that manner to a team of auditors who are their to fulfill legally stipulated duties,” Niyaz said.
Parliament initiative to run audits
Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee Chair Abdulla Jabir told Minivan News today that the committee has rescheduled the initial debate on the matter from Sunday to Tuesday, for which both the Auditor General and Attorney General Mohamed Anil will be summoned.
According to Jabir, the objectives of conducting a special audit are to have all state companies operating under a single holding company and to find a way to liquidate companies that fail to make profit.
Attorney General Mohamed Anil was not responding to calls at the time of press.