Director of Audit is never used as a political tool
I refer to Albert Cheng's column headlined 'Expanding ego turns auditor into policy maker' (South China Morning Post, May 2).
Some comments reflected a lack of understanding of the role of the Director of Audit. Mr Cheng's allegation that the Audit Commission was being used as a political tool, is totally unfounded. The commission's independence is safeguarded by the Basic Law, the Audit Ordinance and the value-for-money audit guidelines tabled in the Provisional Legislative Council in February 1998. The Director of Audit alone decides on whether or not to conduct a particular value-for-money audit. There is no question of him being used as a political tool.
Mr Cheng said the Audit Commission had 'deviated from its original mission'. This is a serious misstatement, which requires the following clarifications:
Reducing the delivery frequency of the Post Office from twice to once daily. Mr Cheng said that the Director of Audit was 'proposing that service standards be lowered to save money. This is clearly outside his purview'. The Post Office has already got a service standard that 98 per cent of locally posted letters should be delivered to addressees by the working day following the day the letters are posted. The commission is merely asking whether this service standard can be achieved by one delivery daily and at a lower cost. As this concerns efficient use of resources, it is clearly within the purview of the Audit Commission.
Residential services for the elderly. The Government's policy objective on this matter is in the 1991 White Paper 'Social Welfare into the 1990s and Beyond'. According to the White Paper, residential services are provided for those elderly who, for health or other reasons, are unable to look after themselves, and who have no relatives or friends to provide them with assistance. The issues referred to by Mr Cheng (contracting out and means testing) are not part of the policy objective itself, but are merely alternative ways to implement the policy. Therefore, the Audit Commission is entitled to address these issues.
Management of medical equipment. The commission did not, as alleged by Mr Cheng, measure the cost-effectiveness of medical equipment by how frequently it was used. The commission only recommended that the Hospital Authority should implement procedures to monitor and improve the acquisition and utilisation of major medical equipment. Its recommendations were accepted by the Hospital Authority.
The Audit Commission will continue to perform its independent role to ensure efficient and effective use of public resources, and to produce value-for-money audit reports which are accurate, balanced and constructive.
for Director of Audit