The audit of public accounts in the colonies dates back to about 1889 when
they were undertaken at the invitation of the Secretary of State for the
Colonies by the Comptroller and Auditor-General in London. In 1910 the
Colonial Audit Department was established. On the spot audits were to be carried
out in the territories concerned by officers selected by the Secretary of State
acting under the supervision of the Director General of the Overseas Audit
Service who was assisted in London by a central establishment connected with,
but not forming part of, the Colonial Office. In 1959 the Department numbered
over 150 officers. In later years, with increasing financial devolution, a number of
appointments were filled by officers of the Department at the request of the
governments concerned. However, the progressive reduction in the scope of the
Department’s work during the 1960’s led to its winding up in 1971.
The colonies were far from homogeneous in their history and geography, and
it was not a simple task to devise a system of audit which would suit them all
alike. The creation of the Colonial Audit Department seems to have proved to be
a satisfactory solution to the problem, providing the right balance between the
need for local discretion on the one hand and for common standards on the other.
Staff serving in London and overseas were interchangeable and all were liable for
transfer between territories. The career of the individual officers thus depended
on the Department as a whole rather than on any particular locality, some officers
serving in five territories during their careers.
The convention of an independent audit detached from the influence or
pressures of the executive was faithfully observed. Standards were of the highest,
and the green pencil was the auditors’ trade mark. The colonial auditor was
human - one of their number, Black Barnes, was alleged to have run the tote at
Nairobi racecourse many years ago.