IF I believed in reincarnation, I would like to return to this planet as Director of Audit of the Hong Kong Government. What fun could be had. For decades, the office of this fiscal watchdog has been headed by extraordinarily competent civil servants, men (no women, so far) who have probed deep into the spending patterns of our civil service. Year after year, I examine their findings with delightful glee. What I most enjoy about their reports, which thump down on the Legco table every spring and autumn, is the obvious sheer common sense of the auditors. They ask basic, realistic questions about how our cash is dispensed. Why are the same questions not asked earlier - and waste avoided - by department heads? Why do the issues have to be picked up by outsiders when, I would have thought, they should have been obvious to those in a position of daily responsibility? Well, I suppose that's the whole point of the Director of Audit's external dissection of public accounts. No conscientious, penny-conscious taxpayer can read the report without nodding his head in sage approval. Take the latest report which came out a week ago; Dominic Chan Yin-tat echoes the vast bulk of our community in the reservations he holds and the questions he asks. Take the matter of single parent families. Mr Chan asks the social workers to force single parents to look for work before handing out welfare allowances. And why not? This seems to me totally desirable. Our community must look after the underprivileged and weak, but why should a man or woman choose not to work simply because they have offspring? This poises our society, once tough and self-sufficient, on the dangerous abyss of welfare dependency which has proven a horrendous cancer in the inner cities of the United States. Mr Chan, you are absolutely right. And people like Ian Strachan, the overly-generous Director of Social Welfare, are totally mistaken. He asserts blandly that 'single parents should have the freedom to choose to remain full-time homemakers'. This is nonsense, especially in a society where both parents frequently work to provide adequately for their families. If we are going to pay 6,314 able-bodied single parents $383 million a year simply to be parents, surely logic insists we pay a wife to look after her children rather than go to work in a shop, office or factory. On another subject, Mr Chan speaks out with the voice of reason about the outrageous embezzlement of our money by the United Nations. This hapless organisation owes us - the Hong Kong people - one billion dollars. That's just a tiny proportion of what we have forked out in the past 16 years to feed, house and educate the unwanted Vietnamese who have been landing on our shores. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees demands we pay the bill. They will reimburse us sometime in the future. So they say. Now, we discover, this gang of global conmen has no legal liability to pay us and can't be sued because it can cover its wasteful grasping seizure of our money by claiming diplomatic immunity. Last year, the UN paid us back $21.6 million. It owes us $1.06 billion. Instead of being apologetic about its disgraceful hijacking of our money, it abuses and lectures us. And, naturally, not being members of the UN we are powerless to reply; we just generously foot the bill and take the criticism while overstaffed UN bureaucrats live in luxury. Right on, Mr Chan. Go to it with a will. He's my sort of civil servant. A University of Hong Kong economics, accountancy and business graduate, Mr Chan joined the civil service in 1959 after two years in a bank. As a member of professional accounting, banking and computer societies, he keeps well abreast of the latest trends and technologies. Appointed Director of Audit in May, this is his first report. It's a good one. It highlights a number of contentious issues. Mr Chan's team tackled the difficult item of staff of the Hospital Authority double-dipping when it comes to housing allowances. This has caused an uproar, as it should. How can anyone justify paying a person a housing allowance when that person's spouse also gets a housing allowance. Are they living in two places at once? The Director of Audit is not just smart, he's courageous. One of his targets this year was 'awesome Anson'. Mr Chan is a braver man than I to say the chief secretary was 'economical with the truth'. For many years, it was the responsibility of the Audit Department merely to check the accounts and see that money was spent on what the Government had voted it for. Now, that has been broadened. The Director of Audit is charged with seeing also that the taxpayer gets value for money, that the cash to keep our civil service going is being spent in the most cost-effective manner. Some of the matters they have unearthed over the years have been most edifying to the taxpayer. I recall about 25 years ago one report in which the Director of Audit revealed that hundreds of cell doors ordered for Stanley Prison were too small; skinny convicts could worm their way out under the high-slung doors. Astonishingly, nobody noticed until the doors were being installed. Naturally, in those days, nobody was punished, except by being nailed up on the pillory of the press. These days, we are supposed to have 'accountable' and open administration which, I would presume, means that every single public servant (always with the blameless Attorney-General excepted) having to answer for their acts. Well, don't hold your breath waiting for those whose mistakes appear in this year's report to be disciplined. No matter the size of the financial debacles that appear year after year in the auditor's survey, nobody ever seems to get the chop.