Government and the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Malawi (Icam) are discussing proposals to amend the Public Audit Act to lower the required qualifications for the Auditor General (AG), and make the position attractive.
But Public Accounts Committee of Parliament chairperson Shadreck Namalomba has spoken against the move, saying it is retrogressive.
Calling it ‘a prohibitive clause’, Icam president Francis Chinjoka Gondwe, in an interview on Friday, said they consider amending Section 5 (3) (d), which provides that the AG ‘must be in possession of a valid practising certificate issued by the Malawi Accountants Board’.
“Accountants that have these licences are in the private sector and are doing well. They can’t take up the position because they will be paid less. Due to this, government has been struggling to find the right person for the job. Amending that clause is, therefore, considered as a solution,” said Gondwe.
Before it was amended in 2018, the Act, which was passed in Parliament in 2003, did not include a practising certificate as a requirement.
Section 5 (2) of the old law reads, in part: “No person shall be appointed as Auditor General unless that person has formal relevant qualifications, significant experience in audit work.”
Since the amendment, the government has not employed a permanent AG after Stevenson Kamphasa who retired that same year.
In the interim, two people have acted in the position—Thomas Makiwa and the current one Rexie Chiluzi.
Gondwe said the country only has about 60 accountants that have practising certificates.
He said amending the Act is seen as progressive as it would enable more people, including civil servants to apply for the position.
“You can rarely find an accountant in the civil service that has a practising certificate, so automatically they are ruled out,” he said.
The Public Accounts and Auditors Act stipulates that to qualify for an operating certificate, a qualified accountant should, among others, have “a minimum of three years of post-qualification experience in the office of a practising accountant in an audit firm in auditing services”.
Added to that, he must pass Malawi Taxation, Malawi Company Law and Audit Assurance examinations administered by the Malawi Accountants Board.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Finance, which facilitates the recruitment of the AG, confirmed discussions with Icam to amend the Public Audit Act.
Treasury spokesperson Williams Banda said: “The move would remove the discriminatory clauses, including those that exclude public servants [from rising to the position].”
He could not be drawn to substantiate Icam’s sentiments that government has failed to attract highly qualified applicants for the position.
“What government and the stakeholders are trying to do is to make the recruitment fairly competitive,” said Banda.
Icam fears that delays to recruit a permanent AG in nearly three years might affect the operations of the National Audit Office (NAO), because the acting AGs may not have the full mandate to perform efficiently.
However, Banda dismissed the fears, arguing: “Operations cannot be crippled as we have ably knowledgeable public servants.”
He could not disclose when government plans to appoint a new AG, saying the ministry will resubmit a candidate for Parliament consideration.
But Namalomba said although the AG position favours those in the private sector, he would discourage changing the law.
“Why are civil servants not applying for a practising licence? We have qualified accountants in government. What they need is to be encouraged to sit for the examinations to secure the licence. The Act shouldn’t be tampered with to suit some people,” he insisted.