Facilitating public contributions to the audit process

The Auditor-General, Tan Sri Ambrin Buang, in his speech on Jan 24, 2017, stated that “The risk of fraud is inherent to any organisation. Right now, we are being exposed to seemingly endless cases of fraud and corruption in the public sector.” This is compounded by the incompetence, negligence, omissions, and so on in the public sector. It is more than likely that many cases are covered up by the organizations concerned and the reports published may only be the tip of the iceberg. The auditors may only discover these omissions if they are doing a forensic audit, otherwise, they have to depend on serendipity for their discovery.

However, some citizens may have personal knowledge of the weakness and problematic areas in the government projects or operations of the various public sector entities. These citizens may have worked or interacted with the projects or public sector entities. The knowledge they contribute could be important leads to the auditors for discovering cover-ups. It is important to note that this is not about whistle-blowing or leaking government information but providing leads for the auditors to follow-up.  

The public sector comprises about 1400 government agencies, 1700 GLCs, and 1.6 million staffs. The Audit Department itself has about 1950 staffs. Providing a simple feedback system is not likely to work as the public may feel that they are putting their contributions into a black hole without a trace. Getting the message to the right person will be difficult. The information provided is for future use by an unknown person, following the audit cycles of the Audit Department.

Given these misgivings, getting citizens to contribute their knowledge can be a challenge. The process should be as painless as possible, using tools and facilities that the users are already familiar. Ideally, this should be done in an open and transparency environment such that citizens can gain confidence in the system. With clarifications, government officials should not have to repeat their answers to the same questions from different people.

The social media, like Facebook, offers many possibilities as it allows threaded communications. Users can also attach pictures to the comments. However, on its own, the conversations are not organized and often without the proper context. It is difficult to find or follow the conversations. Anyone with a valid Facebook account can post messages and at the end of 2016, there are about 10.9 Facebook users in Malaysia.

The messages posted in the various conversations should have a context to be meaningful and focused. We already have ready-made context with the audit results or findings and the audit entities. These should form the background information for any discussion thread.

Implementing this in the AG’s Report InfoGraph (http://myagr.mcthosting.net) is simple as the existing information structure supports this enhancement. Each audit result or findings, public entities, projects, and so on are unique documents where the FB comments can be attached. The AGR InfoGraph already includes extensive facilities to make the AG’s report more accessible, integrated and usable.

Comments based on an audit result or findings

With the audit results/findings, the Audit department has reported on the background of the audits, their observations, and findings. Citizens familiar with the particular topic can check if the auditors have missed or omitted any significant information. They can contribute by providing new leads of facts for the audit department to follow-up. The audit department may not follow-up on this immediately because of their workload and schedules but the information is now available for ready reference when required.

The feedback can include pictures of design flaws, construction defects, deterioration of the structures in use, structural failures and so on to create a rich citizens’ developed resource.

Comments based on an audit entity

Citizens may also have personal information related to an audit entity they may want to share with Audit Department and the public. The ideal place to share this is the comments section of the audit entities. These comments should be factual and we should let the audit department do their investigations and make their own evaluations.

Before posting any comments, the users should check out the direct and related audits of the organizations.  This is to ensure that their posts are relevant and not repeats. Too much noise will only inhibit the work of the audit department.

Conclusion

The social media can enrich the AG’s report and transform the citizen participation in the audit process. The comments plugin of Facebook is a very recent facility (c.2010) and news portals and blogs use it to get users comments.When the number of comments becomes large, monitoring, managing and using these comments can become an issue and an effective way to handle this must be found. While this may not be important to news portals, it is supplementary information that can enhance the quality of the audits. 

Footnote:
We are having problems activating the “Add photo” facility in the FB Comments plugin. Normally, a camera icon will appear on the right-hand corner of the comment text box. We would be thankful to anyone who can help us fix this. 

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