Defence minister Peter Vilho shot back at the auditor general’s office, describing the institution’s staff as a “sabre-toothed tigers” who are in the habit of instilling fear in the lives of executive directors with threats of adverse opinions and subpoena.
Vilho made these remarks in parliament last week while responding to questions by Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP) president Mike Kavekotora around spending within the country’s defence force.
Kavekotora’s questions came from auditor general Junias Kandjeke’s report into the books of the Ministry of Defence for the 2018/19 financial year.
In his report, Kandjeke claimed he was blocked from inspecting N$506.4 million of the defence ministry expenditures during that financial year despite the law providing the auditor general or his delegate access to all books of a given government entity.
“When I was appointed as ED and started to engage with the Office of the AG, I realised that I was up against an institution that isn’t used to be questioned or talked back to. Just because they are a watchdog, they feel they are above the law and have powers over everyone and everything,” Vilho told lawmakers.
He said the decision of the auditors to link the inability to audit N$506.4 million under operational equipment, machinery and plant to the restrictions of access to military facilities is a “red herring”.
“It is designed to deflect from the real issues for reasons only known to themselves,” Vilho said.
Vilho clarified that when he started working in the ministry around September 2017, it was about the time of the year that the draft of audit reports would be sent to the ministry for comments.
“When I saw the qualified opinion in the draft report, I gathered my staff in order to find out what was wrong and how it could be fixed,” he explained.
According to him, his ministry staff went through the report and discovered most of the 18 findings for which the ministry got a qualified opinion were incorrect.
“Some were incorrect due to erroneous calculations on the part of the auditors and others were incorrect due to the fact that the management comments provided by the ministry were being selectively incorporated into the report and, therefore, not giving a correct and complete picture of the responses by the ministry,” he explained.
In its response to the draft audit report dated 6 April 2018, Vilho said until 2017, the auditors would perform only one type of audit – that is the financial audit that they performed without obstruction.
In 2018, at the behest of the Office of the Prime Minister, another audit was introduced: the Compliance and Performance Information Audit, which the auditors equally performed without hindrance.
However, the ministry requested the auditors not to publicly release information contained in the 2018 performance audit.
“They ignored our request and published it anyway,” he said.
In 2019, Vilho said when auditors requested the ministry for information on the performance audit, the ministry only furnished them with non-confidential information. “When they insisted on having the confidential part of the information, we refused and also barred them from visiting the operational bases,” he said.
“As you can see, the financial audit is not featuring anywhere in our correspondences and that is where the N$506 million will normally be discussed. What was under discussion was what should happen to the information in the performance audit and we won’t compromise on that.”
He said the ministry would rather have an adverse opinion than release that information.
“If the AG had given me audience, I wouldn’t be here wasting your precious time,” he said.