British Empire Article

Courtesy of OSPA

by P C Evans
The Overseas (formerly Colonial)
Audit Department 1910-1971
Honiara Audit Office
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.

Africa Map
British Empire Map, 1897
Originally Published
OSPA Journal 77: May 1999
Legacies from the former Colonial Audit Service


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