Saudi state auditing body under fire

Saudi Arabia’s appointed parliament devoted most of its debate on Monday to criticize the country’s state auditors for their failure to collect waste funds of nearly SR25 billion ($seven billion), newspapers reported on Tuesday.

Shura council said public projects worth in excess of SR31 billion ($8.2 billion) were not carried out in fiscal year 2008-2009 although funds were allocated to government departments for such purposes.

The council said the General Auditing Bureau (GAB) has failed in its task to combat mismanagement of public funds and one member called for either “developing GAB or dissolving it.”

“At their debate on Monday, Shura members launched a virulent attack on GAB, saying it had failed to collect nearly SR26 billion in public funds that were not used by some government offices and officials,” Almadina newspaper said.

“Around 555 projects in fiscal 2008-2009 worth nearly SR31 were not implemented…it seems that some government parties are still committing the same mistakes while the Bureau is not doing enough.”

The council members said GAB must upgrade its systems and staff and coordinate with the country’s first anti-corruption body created two months ago on orders by King Abdulla of Saudi Arabia.

Newspapers quoted one member, Mlohammed Al Quwaihis, as attacking key state-owned companies such as Saudi Aramco and the Saudi Telecommunications Company (STC) for wasting funds.

He accused these firms of losing part of their investment abroad, adding that some of them invest overseas without informing their shareholders.

“Some of these companies have suffered from losses in investments partly owned by citizens…we wonder on what basis these companies invest abroad without notifying their shareholders,” he said.

“We call on GAB to regularly review the closing accounts for these companies…..over the past 10 years, the Bureau has highlighted the same problem and its reports are the same…the Bureau must take a tough position to stop the waste of public funds…either it develops itself or it is dissolved.”

In a statement presented to King Abdullah last year, GAB reported massive financial offences at public establishments in the Gulf Kingdom.

GAB said some government offices are involved in illegal spending of public money while others are holding up projects or do not comply with budgets.

GAB’s Chairman Osama Al Faqih also told the Monarch that many pubic institutions have failed to heed a cabinet decision and set up in-house auditing units to ensure discipline and curb financial malpractices.

Faqih said there was a pressing need for all public establishments to implement that decision to ensure financial discipline, governance and transparency.

GAB itself was locked in a week-long heated debate with Shura last year over a presumed wastage of a staggering $29 billion (Dh106 billion) in public money

The debate between the two bodies and other government institutions coincided with moves by the Gulf Kingdom to promote itself as one of the best and safest investment destinations within a long term diversification programme intended to reduce its reliance on unpredictable oil sales.

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