Technical Articles

International Journal of Auditing – April 2004

Getting Started: Beginning an Environmental Auditing Initiative in Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, the impact of environmental issues on individual communities and the country at large has been identified as a major problem, and the Sri Lankan government has established a legal framework to address this challenge. The Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka states, “The State shall protect, preserve and improve the environment for the benefit of the community” (Article 27 (14) of chapter VI, 1978).

This constitutional provision reflects the government’s concern about protecting and preserving the environment. To this end, Parliament enacted the National Environmental Act of 1980 to provide for the protection and management of the environment. That act established the Central Environmental Authority (CEA). In addition, Sri Lanka established a new Cabinet-level ministry to regulate environmental activities of the state. Under the act, the powers of the CEA can be delegated to local authorities.

The Auditor General’s Department was established over 204 years ago and is one of the oldest departments in Sri Lanka. The Auditor General, the head of the department, is appointed by the President. Pursuant to provisions in Article 154 of the Constitution, the Auditor General audits the accounts of all departments and ministries of the government, local authorities, and public corporations.

This provision gives the Auditor General the authority to audit the activities of the ministry in charge of the environment and the CEA. In view of the technical nature of the CEA’s activities, the Auditor General can obtain the assistance of experts in the environmental field. Thus, the scope of the audit conducted by the Auditor General is not confined to financial audit. In fact, the scope of audit in Sri Lanka covers operational aspects of public sector institutions, including value-for-money audits on a modest scale. The Auditor General reports the results of audits to the audited institutions and to Parliament.

The Auditor General’s Department is in the initial stages of introducing environmental auditing. To date, two pilot audits on waste management in two municipal councils—Colombo and Dehiwala Mount Lavinia—have been carried out with the department’s current limited experience in this field.

Key Challenges and Problems

We have identified the following challenges in the early stages of our environmental auditing process:

  • the lack of specialized audit staff to carry out environmental audits,
  • the lack of adequate funds to engage specialized staff in the environmental field, and
  • the lack of clearly defined environmental responsibilities for the central government and provincial agencies.

These challenges were encountered in the pilot audits. The audits were carried out by SAI staff without the requisite skills, posing problems such as the inability to differentiate hazardous and nonhazardous waste or to identify the negative impact of storage and transport problems. The team did not have the expertise to test the environmental impact on ground water and the air as well as hazardous and noxious odors emanating from the dumping area. In addition, because of the aforementioned limitations, a complete audit plan and audit program for solid waste management had not been prepared.

Because the main obstacle the SAI has encountered in environmental auditing is the lack of competent staff, the need for a training program in this field is imperative.

Capacity Building in Environmental Auditing

The Auditor General’s Department acquired valuable knowledge and materials on environmental auditing at the INTOSAI seminar held in Warsaw, Poland, in June 2003. With this initial information, the department started to gradually introduce environmental auditing aspects into its programs. A team of senior officers trained in performance auditing carried out the preliminary exercise in environment audit. Subsequently, another Superintendent of Audit and I had the opportunity to participate in the INTOSAI environmental auditing workshop held in Antalya, Turkey, in November 2003. (See "Going Back to School: A New Approach to Environmental Audit Training” in this issue for more information about the workshop.)

Proposals for auditing waste management were drawn up at the workshop and further developed for implementation in Sri Lanka. The training from the workshop is being transferred to department staff. The workshop’s materials on environmental auditing were translated into Sinhala, the official language of Sri Lanka, and have been distributed among the staff. They are of great value as an introduction to environmental auditing. They have proven very useful in teaching the staff of the Sri Lanka SAI to conduct environmental audits. I would like to express our SAI’s appreciation for this valuable study material and the other information made available at the workshop.

A new audit act is being prepared in Sri Lanka. It will give more independence to the Auditor General in financial and administrative matters and provide for environmental auditing. It will also provide an avenue for obtaining adequate resources, including expert staff with the required skills and knowledge in the field. We also trust that the cooperation and assistance of the Working Group on Environmental Auditing will continue as we begin our endeavors in this field.