FACT-CHECK: Was the Judiciary Audited Since Decentralization in 2008?

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After the exchange of press releases, a meeting between the FPAC and the Judiciary provided the perfect opportunity to clarify the reasons for the failed meeting (Screen grab photo by Yusef Taylor)

By Yusef Taylor, @FlexDan_YT

Since the exchange of press releases between the Judiciary, the National Assembly’s Finance and Public Accounts Committee (FPAC) and the National Audit Office (NAO) earlier in April 2024, the question remained unanswered as to when the Judiciary was last audited.

CLAIM

Since decentralization, the Judiciary has been audited every five years by the National Audit Office. We have proofs of reports of National Audits. The first audit was done from 2008 to 2013 then from 2014 to 2019 June. We have reports of all theses”. (Judiciary’s Financial Controller said in a meeting with the National Assembly on April 24, 2024)

Decentralization of the Judiciary means the decentralization of the administration of justice, which was given a boost with the opening of the high courts in Bakau and in Bundung, the posting of a resident high court judge in the provinces, the establishment of industrial tribunals as well as rent tribunals in each region of the country.  The process also included the establishment of additional high court Brikama, West Coast Region, Jangjangbureh Central River Region, and Kerewan, North Bank Region. (See STRATEGIC PLAN 2021 – 2025).

FACT-CHECK

To verify the claims of the Judiciary our reporter reviewed all the statements issued by the institutions and requested for additional information to ascertain when the Judiciary was previously audited. It all escalated after Parliament passed a 38-point resolution back in September 2023 ordering “that the Judiciary prepare the accounts from the year 31st December 2016 to the year ended 31st December 2022, and submit them to the Auditor General for audit on or before 31st December 2023”.

However, since then the Judiciary has failed to submit its financial statements of accounts for audit and have now defaulted on reporting for the year 2023.

NAO CLARIFICATION

According to the National Audit Office (NAO), “the audit period referred to in the Judiciary’s press release of April 19th was a transaction audit as part of the consolidated audit of the Gambia government where a sample of transactions is normally collected and tested. This was not a separate Financial Audit on the Judiciary”. (Press statement 21st April, 2024)

“The NAO is surprised by the assertion of the Judiciary that it is audited by an external auditor every five years. This is not accurate, and is a big flaw on the part of the Judiciary as it contradicts Section 160 (1) (c) of the 1997 Constitution which is herein reproduced verbatim:

“At least once a year, audit and report on the public accounts of The Gambia, the accounts of all offices and authorities of the Government of The Gambia, the accounts of the courts, the accounts of the National Assembly, and the accounts of all enterprises.”

Speaking at a consultation meeting between the Judiciary, NAO and the National Assembly, the Auditor General revealed that the NAO “have advised and wrote to meet them (the Judiciary) on two issues that are very important and fundamental in the governance of the Judiciary also for the wider accountability framework. In that letter, we highlighted the financial statement issues and the need to meet them on the administration of surcharges. These were the two requests that we sent. Before that, my colleague here, Director responsible for Extraneous Institutions. also wrote a letter to them asking them that it was required of them to send Financial Statements”.

FPAC CLARIFICATION

The National Assembly’s FPAC issued a similar statement highlighting that “the audit period referred to in the Judicial Secretary’s press release, submitted to the National Assembly – dated 27th March, 2024, were records of transaction audit as part of the consolidated audit of the Government of The Gambia where a sample of transactions is normally collected and tested. This does not represent an audited Financial Statements, as confirmed by the Auditor General in his separate press release of 21st April 2024. Thus, they did not fulfill the requirement of [audited] Financial Statements of the Judiciary to be submitted to the National Assembly and the Auditor General”.

Towards the latter part of the consultation which took place on 24th April 2024, nominated member and member of the FPAC, Hon Kebba Lang Fofana highlighted: “So, which means since 2008 you have been missing that critical component and if I were you, today, I would have gone to the National Audit Office, hold the Auditor General, drag him to my office and make sure that it’s done”.

The NAO’s Auditor General also clarified during the meeting that, “the Judiciary has never met these requirements. Not before 2018, not in the 2019 previous audits. These are transactional audits that opinions are not expressed in those accounts. They lay out internal control deficiencies that are addressed to the management in the form of management letters and those issues are addressed and responded to by the relevant management at the time”.

Speaking at the Parliamentary consultation, the Judiciary’s Financial Controller conceded: “We understand it seems that the auditors have not audited the judiciary since its decentralization [in 2008]. Only the transactional part has been audited with no financial statements audited and there were no queries to the Judiciary until when the National Assembly came with this resolution”.

VERDICT

Based on our research, since decentralization in 2008, the Judiciary has not been fully audited as is the case with other state institutions.

The Judiciary only conducted “transaction audits” as part of the consolidated audit of the Gambia government where a sample of transactions is normally collected and tested.

A transactional audit is conducted to ensure that a transaction is problem-free and is typically done for due-diligence purposes. It aims to identify any potential issues that may arise from the transaction, according to DLS Solicitors.

The Judiciary has not undergone a separate Financial Audit as an institution since 2008. Therefore, the claim that the Judiciary is audited is FALSE.

NOTE: The Judiciary agreed to submit its Financial Statements for Auditing to the National Audit Office by September 2024.

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