Country Moves to Strengthen Financial Oversight

United Nations Development Programme (New York), 25 July 2003

New York— São Tomé and Príncipe, the island nation off the west coast of equatorial Africa, is strengthening oversight of public finances by setting up a national Audit Office, with support from UNDP.

The peaceful reversal this week of a coup by military forces earlier this month means that the initiative can go forward.

The 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 Government and UNDP are sharing the cost of a project to provide training for civil servants to strengthen the new office.

The purpose and operations of audit offices in general was the focus of a recent international seminar for members of the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries (CPLP) in São Tomé, the capital, organized 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.

In addition to audit officials, parliamentarians and representatives from the public sector and civil society also participated, discussing their roles in support of monitoring of public finances.

President Fradiques de Menezes of São Tomé and Príncipe emphasized 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, he said.

UNDP Resident Representative Christian Lehembre said that strengthening the Audit Office is important because of the prospect of revenues from major offshore oil reserves, and noted that the office's effective operation can help pave the way for the country 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 needs to promote the rule of law and the critical role of the Audit Office should be widely publicized in this regard.

Participants noted that public sector managers need 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, said that his office would hold more seminars and training activities.

For further information please contact Sabina Ramos, UNDP São Tomé and Príncipe, or Cassandra Waldon, UNDP Communications Office.