Published On: Fri, Jun 4th, 2021

Audit Chamber has its financial management under control

PHILIPSBURG — The General Audit Chamber shows in its 2020 annual report that its financial management is in good shape and that the organization lives up to promise to deliver its annual report to parliament and the office of the governor before July 1st of each year.

The Chamber published its 2020 annual report in early June. The report gives a clear overview of the organization’s activities and its tasks and authorities.

The COVID-19 crisis has had only a limited effect on the Chamber’s activities, Chairman Alphons Gumbs writes in the report’s preface. “The Audit Chamber has been cloud-based since 2017 and has remained as fully operational as possible during the March to June lockdown which stretched into July.”

The Chamber marked its tenth anniversary on October 10 with the publication of the report “Retrospective: 10 years of the General Audit Chamber.” The conclusion: “We demonstrate that after a decade many necessary steps still need to be taken in public financial management.”

In this field, the Audit Chamber leads by example. Its original budget of a bit over 1.9 million guilders was cut down to just over 1.7 million due to mandatory COVID-related reductions, but the Chamber spent just 71 percent of the funding it had at its disposal.

These savings are not only due to COVID-19 related reductions, but also to not filling vacancies for high level staff and to cutting a business-mission short in March. The Chamber also got creative:  it kept expenses for training to a minimum by using free online first aid training from the Red Cross.

Furthermore, the Chamber renegotiated its contracts for ICT- and marketing-support. This resulted in savings of 45 and 30 percent respectively.

The Chamber’s budget took a hit when parliament approved the national 2020 budget. “Personnel costs were unilaterally reduced without consultation by approximately 14 percent, prior to the mandatory COVID-19 reductions. An additional 14.4 percent was cut from our personnel budget, resulting in vacancies not being filled,” the report states.

The Chamber voluntarily cut vacation allowances by 50 percent, in solidarity with the labor unions, even though it has its doubts about the legality of this measure. “We are of the opinion that a legal basis is required for the reduction in vacation allowance.”

Since January 2020 the Audit Chamber manages its own financial administration, meaning that it would take care of its own financial obligations (with the exception of payroll). In spite of this, the Finance Ministry paid the rent for the months of January and February, thus saving the Chamber 18,000 guilders.

The overview of the Chamber’s expenses in 2020 shows that spending stayed below budget on practically all items. What stands out are the savings on cleaning (46.2 percent), utilities 55 percent), telephone and internet (35.5 percent) and travel (73.9 percent). The Chamber also spent 47.3 percent less on fees for board members but that is due to the fact that the board was not complete. Bank charges were also significantly lower: from the budgeted 15,000 guilders, the Chamber spent just 1,916 guilders (12.3 percent).

All in all the operating expenses amounted to 535,192 guilders, 221,664 guilders of 28.4 percent below the budgeted 746,856 guilders.

The annual report is available online in Dutch and English on the website of the General Audit Chamber (www.arsxm.org).