- São Tomé and Príncipe, with UN support, is strengthening oversight of public finances by setting up a national Audit Office. This project, and others that are to help produce economic growth in the country, would have been halted if the coup leaders had not returned control to the civilian government.
The new São Toméan audit office, which the government now has set up with support from the UN's development agency (UNDP), thus is in place long before the expected future revenues from major offshore oil reserves. Thus, a transparent oil sector may develop.
According to a release by UNDP, "the peaceful reversal" this week of a coup by military forces earlier this month on the island nation off the west coast of equatorial Western Africa "means that the initiative can go forward."
The audit office is charged with monitoring government income and expenditures to see that they are in line with the budget, oversight of other government fiscal operations, keeping an inventory of public property, auditing publicly-owned enterprises and monitoring foreign development assistance.
The São Toméan government and UNDP are sharing the cost of a project to provide training for civil servants to strengthen the new office, according to the UN agency.
The purpose and operations of audit offices in general had also been the focus of a recent international seminar for members of the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries (CPLP) in São Tomé, the capital, organised by the government and UNDP. Visiting participants came from Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde and Portugal.
The seminar covered auditing of external finances; the social role of audit offices; their relations with the legislative and executive branches of government, other oversight bodies, and public prosecutors; and dealings with civil society and public institutions, UNDP informed today.
In addition to audit officials, parliamentarians and representatives from the public sector and civil society had also participated, discussing their roles in support of monitoring of public finances.
President Fradique de Menezes of São Tomé and Príncipe, who hosted the seminar, emphasised the importance of setting up the Audit Office, saying that it should focus on enforcing the law and operating without prejudice.
- We need to understand that good management and good governance not only mean respect for the law, but also keeping within bounds of sound government operations, Mr Menezes was quoted by UNDP as saying.
The UNDP representative in São Tomé, Christian Lehembre, said that strengthening the Audit Office is "important because of the prospect of revenues from major offshore oil reserves."
Mr Lehembre further had noted that the office's effective operation could help pave the way for São Tomé and Príncipe to qualify for debt relief under the World Bank's highly-indebted poor country (HIPC) initiative.
The seminar concluded that for São Tomé and Príncipe to consolidate democratic rule, it needed to promote the rule of law and the critical role of the Audit Office should be widely publicised in this regard. Participants noted that public sector managers needed to be taught to keep regular accounts, and the office's technical staff needs improved training.
Francisco Fortunato Pires, the new president of the Audit Office, told UNDP that his office would hold more seminars and training activities.
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