EXTRACT: “A BETTER WAY TO PLAN THE NATIONS FINANCES”
Expanding the role of the Comptroller and Auditor General
2.22 The office of Comptroller and Auditor General is established by Article 33 of the Constitution, which provides that “There shall be a Comptroller and Auditor General to control on behalf of the State all disbursements and to audit all accounts of moneys administered by or under the authority of the Oireachtas.” The function of the Comptroller and Auditor General is further explained as follows in the publication “An Outline of Irish Financial Procedures”*:-
“As Auditor General, the Comptroller and Auditor General is responsible for the audit of Government accounts for accuracy and regularity and for identifying and reporting to the Dáil in instances where it appears to him that there has been loss, waste or uneconomic expenditure. He has no function in regard to policy but may examine its implementation in course of investigating apparent instances of loss, waste or uneconomic expenditure”.
2.23 In his report to Dáil Éireann, the Comptroller and Auditor General draws attention to any case
(i)where the amount granted by the Dáil has been exceeded;
(ii)where money received by a Department from sources other than the supply grant (i.e. by way of income from fees) has not been properly used or accounted for;
(iii)where a sum charged against a supply grant is not supported by proof of payment;
(iv)where a payment so charged was not made within the period of account;
(v)where the expenditure has not been authorised by the Department of Finance as required by standard financial practice;
(vi)where there is loss, waste or uneconomic expenditure.
The well-established principles governing the exercise of his functions by the Comptroller and Auditor General limit the extent to which he may comment on the wisdom of new or continued Government expenditure. One possible method of providing the bype of information needed by a new Public Expenditure Committee of the Dáil would be to change the terms of reference of the Comptroller and Auditor General to give him the explicit power to examine effectiveness questions in relation to public expenditure and to report thereon to the Committee. A practice of this kind already exists in a number of European countries. Indeed, in many of them the functions of the equivalent of the Comptroller and Auditor General are much wider than they are in Ireland. However, the role of assessing the policy behind public expenditure, and that of assessing the legality of public expenditure, are so different that it is possibly unwise to combine both functions in the one office.
A Public Expenditure Commissioner
2.24 In concept, a Public Expenditure commissioner would have the role of reviewing public expenditure programmes as to their effectiveness and perhaps recommending the elimination of wasteful or obsolete programmes and activities. On his own initiative, or at the request of the Dáil Public Expenditure Committee, the Commissioner would undertake examination of specific expenditure programmes. The Commissioner would be empowered to carry out analytic assessments of expenditure programmes calling upon the aid of Departmental papers and officials as he judged necessary and report to the Dáil Committee for its consideration. The Commissioner would not be concerned with examining expenditure on a calendar year basis but would to so from the point of view of public policy and whether a programme could be carried out more effectively or whether it answered the needs it was originally intended to serve. In certain cases it could be possible that social and economic conditions had changed so much since an expenditure programme wasinitiated that its continuation was no longer justified. The principal advantage of such a Commissioner would be in the freedom which he would enjoy to operate independently of Ministerial involvement.
2.25 Consideration would require to be given, in connection with the functions which might appropriately be assigned to a Public Expenditure Commissioner, to the relationship between the powers contemplated for the Commissioner and the powers and functions of the Ministers for Finance and for the Public Service.
2.26 Consideration could also be given to the question of whether a monitoring role over the government’s annual budgeted expenditure might be assigned to the Commissioner. This could involve the Commissioner in reporting, at stated intervals in the course of the year, on the developing situation in relation to the Government’s intentions d forecasts as announced in the Budget. The value of the entire budgetary process depends on the validity of the estimates presented to the Dáil of revenue and expenditure for the year ahead. In recent years doubts have been expressed about the accuracy of estimates of expenditure as presented to the Dáil at the beginning of the year since, in practice, estimates have been exceeded by substantial amounts as the year advanced. The practicability of having an independent evaluation as to whether the initial figures are realistic in the light of stated policy and likely inflation trends will be examined.