The latest series of the AG’s report has just been released. As usual, there was a flurry of articles in the mainstream media. It would appear that many journalists are assigned the job to read the newly released report, to find the sensational issues raised by the National Audit Department (NAD). Then there were the comments from the members of Civil-Society Organization, who will decry the inaction and lack of political will of the government. As usual, canned solutions are proposed with all the zeal and convictions. This cycle has been going on for years. Do people expect a different result?
Among the objective of NAD is to promote transparency, accountability, and good governance. Is the AG’s report sufficiently transparent? Should the government officers be accountable? By the way, what is good governance? The Good Governance Guide (www.goodgovernance.org.au) defines it as follows: “Good governance is about the processes for making and implementing decisions. It’s not about making ‘correct’ decisions, but about the best possible process for making those decisions.”
So, good governance is about the process rather than the outcome. This concept is similar to ISO 9000 and ISO 14000. Is this in place in the civil service? Has the ISO 9000 fad gone away?
The audit cycle for any of the public entities is anything from three to five years. After an audit and before the next audit, many of the people involved would have been promoted, transferred or retired. Since the AG’s report is published in three series, there are over 100 documents for each year.
While reading one of the many news reports about the AG’s Report, many things can come to mind.
- Is this a repeat incident for the organization involved?
- Has this happened in a related organization?
- Has it happened in the ministry concerned?
- Are the same people in previous incidents involved?
- Who are the vendors, contractors and other parties involved?
- What are the issues raised by the NAD?
- What are the other audits where these issues have been raised?
- What are the related issues, if any?
- What is the NAD recommendations and what are their recommendations in previous audits of a similar nature?
- Are these recommendations accepted and implemented and what is the outcome?
- Have these issues been analyzed and a plan developed to tackle them?
There may be other questions, depending on the actual incident. Without such background information, is the government just firefighting? How can similar incidents be prevented in the future? Should the officers be accountable? Is it reasonable to expect them to anticipate where the weaknesses of the system will be exploited? The obvious excuse from the journalists, decision-makers, and other stakeholders is that it is too challenging and tedious to research this background information. As such, there is little or no memory of what has transpired before. Consciousness requires memory. Without consciousness, history will repeat itself.
All’s not lost as this is now the information age. We have started a private initiative to make the AG’s Report more accessible, integrated and usable. As of today, we have most of the activities and management audit information for years 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014. We not only manage the factual information but how the information is related. The web service, which is still in beta, is available at http://myagr.mcthosting.net. It is a novel way to try to address a long-standing intractable problem.