Financial audit and control of the performance of government departments in both the center and provinces is one of the most important duties of the government. The Control and Audit Office bears this responsibility and its duties are deemed very important in checking corruption and financial irregularities although this office's jurisdiction overlaps to some extent with that of the Supreme Office of Anti-Corruption Vigilance created by the president to deal with similar issues on a wide scale.
The Control and Audit Office is responsible for scrutinizing, auditing and controlling the money and funds allocated for various ministries and departments in the center and provinces in the form of ordinary and development budgets. If any financial corruption in the form of misappropriation, mismanagement, misuse, embezzling, theft or any other financial irregularity is committed by the executive departments over the past one year, then CAO is responsible for detecting them and taking action.
The functions and responsibilities of Afghanistan's Control and Audit Office (CAO) assumes great importance because financial corruption, theft, embezzling, misuse and misallocation of the funds donated by the international community and donor countries has always been a major problem in Afghanistan.
The first vice-president, Qasim Fahim, admits that the widespread corruption within the government of Afghanistan has actually discouraged the donor countries and the international community in recent years. This is no new problem in the country; as far back as 2004 there were clear signs that the money and funds donated to the coffers of the government by other countries and donors could not be tracked and determined if they were properly spent.
Although most of the funds were spent through NGOs and other non governmental entities, the little money that the government received went largely unaccounted, misused and lost in corruption. However, slowly a new trend is emerging and the government of Afghanistan is being increasingly brought under pressure to set the past failed records straight and make sure that it has the capacity to properly spend larger volumes of international aid in future. In the Kabul Conference in 2010, the donor countries agreed to the government's requests to channel at least 50% of international aid through the government of Afghanistan.
As a result, billions of dollars has already been delivered to the coffers of the Ministry of Finance. In addition, rising volumes of internal revenues that the government earns as taxes, royalties and etc has significantly increased and boosted the government's income. According to the Ministry of Finance, almost the entire ordinary budget of the government in the center and provinces is being raised through the revenues of the government itself which is good news for the country.
Here is where the role of such government supervisory agencies such as the Control and Audit Office (CAO) is important. Rising revenues of the government coupled with increasing flow of international aid funds into the government coffers necessitate much larger capacity on the part of the government to strictly control and supervise the financial performance of its central and provincial agencies and departments. More funds and larger budgets for government departments in both center and provinces mean higher chances of corruption and misuse of funds; especially since the majority of these departments have poor planning and operational capacities and corruption is rife in them.
According to Mohammad Sharifi, the chief of Afghanistan's Control and Audit Office, last year alone, more than 220 cases were referred to the office of prosecutor general. How the government of Afghanistan plans to have larger budgets without ensuring that the funds will be properly spent and they will not be lost to misuse and embezzlement? Afghanistan will not be able to exercise good governance without being able to efficiently and judiciously allocate and spend its financial resources. Thus, building financially accountable, transparent and corruption-free government must be top on the agenda of the government of Afghanistan.
As discussed, the Control and Audit Office (CAO) is the main body of the government of Afghanistan responsible for detecting and preventing financial irregularities and corruption. Mohammad Sharifi, the chief of the CAO, points to some legal bottlenecks and shortcomings that have come in the way of his office and its duties.
According to him, the law does not give the CAO enough power and authority to independently perform its duties and detect and prevent corruption in a timely fashion. The COA is dependent on the Ministry of Finance to receive the financial statements and reports of the provincial departments. Constraints of time add and other problems faced by the CAO also have kept down the effectiveness of this office and its supervisory role.
The first step towards empowering and strengthening the hand of such supervisory offices as CAO is to remove the legal obstacles. The majority of laws now prevailing in the country were designed and adopted decades ago and have become old and obsolete by now. Revision and updating of these old legal frameworks according to the needs and realities of today is an urgent task.
The laws governing the activities and functions of the COA are one example; laws which are in urgent need of revision. The government of Afghanistan's Control and Audit Office (CAO) cannot single-handedly carry the responsibility of detection and prevention of financial corruption given the fact that the public administration system of Afghanistan is huge, old and complex.
In addition to building a strong, legally-empowered and effective CAO at the top (which obviously should be independent from the executive branch), other such control and audit institutions must be built inside each and every cluster of departments so that the whole operation is not overly concentrated at the top of the pyramid which is the CAO. Currently, every ministry at the center has already an internal inspection directorate.
Such directorates and supervisory offices must be extended to provincial departments as well and be given power and authority to be effective guardians against financial corruption and mismanagement of public money. After all, providing necessary vigilance against corruption is a must if Afghanistan is to be able to hold the trust of the international community.