Audit leaders in Africa voice frustration at the difficulty of bringing corruption to light

It's not easy to be an internal auditor at a public entity in Africa. "It takes a lot of bravery," said Graham Joscelyne, chair of the audit and ethics committee at the Global Fund to Fight Aids.

Joscelyne moderated a panel of auditors and former auditors of public entities and governments at the Audit, Risk, and Governance Africa conference being held this week in Accra, Ghana. The panelists, including Ludovick Utouh, former controller and auditor general at WAJIBU – Institute of Public Accountability in Tanzania, expressed frustration at the slow pace of progress for government services in Africa and the many obstacles to bringing corruption at public entities to light.

“I have seen a number of instances in many countries where oversight institutions are created and then immediately undermined,” said Utouh. “They are a showcase only.” According to Utouh, auditors general need to do more to bring audit findings, especially those that detail instances of corruption and wrongdoing, directly to the people to put more pressure on governments to reform. “We need to transform the way audit findings are reported,” he said. “They end up being stuffed in boxes and nothing is done.”

Fellow panelist, Edward Ouko, auditor general at the National Audit Office in Kenya, agreed that public auditors in Africa need to do more to advance reform and stifle corruption. He suggested writing audit reports in a clearer and more compelling way and taking the results directly to the public. “I am looking for a day when our audits can resonate with the people and what they are really concerned about,” he said. “We have to start changing our view of what public audit can do.”

Strata of Corruption

The panel, which also included Johnson Akuamoah Asiedu, deputy auditor general at the Ghana Audit Service, and Kwame Barnieh, a senior manager at KPMG in Ghana, agreed that public auditors need to advance past traditional financial audits to look more closely at the results and performance of public entities. “We should be able to tell the public how what was budgeted was spent, but more importantly, that it did what it was intended to do,” said Ouko.

The difficulties of fighting corruption was a prevalent theme during the first three days of the conference, as auditors, risk managers, and governance officials spoke of the challenges of confronting powerful forces with evidence of corruption. “There is whole strata of perpetuating corruption,” said Asiedu of the Ghana Audit Service. According to Asiedu, at some organizations the payments are distributed throughout the entity. “The boss takes a larger share and the underlings take a smaller share, all the way down the line.” Asiedu cautioned that the organizations need to change the tone at the top and leaders had to set a better example for employees to follow in order to combat fraud and corruption.

For many speakers, changing the way auditors report and paying more attention not just to financial results but to the services public entities provide and how they perform was crucial to the survival of the public audit profession in Africa. Said Utouh: “If we don’t do that, I see the chance that the auditor general offices will become obsolete.