British Empire Article

Courtesy of OSPA

by Professor Jeffrey Ridley
(Colonial Audit Service 1953-63, now Visiting Professor, University of Lincoln)
Legacies from the former Colonial Audit Service
Colonial Audit Service
From the early 1930s the accounts of most of the colonies and protectorates were audited on behalf of the Secretary of State by colonial officers acting under the supervision of a Director-General, based in London. The Director- General was connected with but did not form part of the then Colonial Qffice - thus maintaining the independence, essential for audit. Staff of the Colonial Audit Service (later to become members of Her Majesty's Qverseas Civil Service) were recruited and trained by the Director-General, then posted to most of the colonies and protectorates to establish and train audit departments within the local civil services; responsible for the independent audit of all government, local authority and quasi-government accounts and financial regulations. A unique aspect of the career of Colonial Audit officers was transfers between territories to develop their careers and maintain a continuing independence. This transfer process was entirely the responsibility of the Director-General. For the early recruited officers this meant working in as many as six territories in their careers.

At the time of my recruitment in 1953, the service consisted of only some 200 Colonial Auditors, supported by many hundreds of civil service staff in the territories in which they were based. After training in London I was posted to Nigeria, arriving in Lagos in 1953. At that time Nigeria was divided into four regions - Lagos (the Federal Capital), Northern, Eastern and Western. I was sent by train to Kaduna, a two day journey, to join the Northern Region audit department. My following ten year career as a Colonial Auditor patterned that of most of my fellow auditors in the service. As an assistant auditor I was provided with a car and sent on tour to report on the accounts of local authorities and government departments. That first tour was to last some twelve months camping in many different outposts, some for only a few weeks. Each location required meetings with local officials and other colonial officers, involving many days and nights immersed in years of local accounts, records and understanding of the implementation of related government financial regulations, followed by typed reports to Residents and my headquarters in Kaduna. My experiences matched any of today's auditors in their variety and challenges, if not also the isolation.

After five years, and accompanied by my wife and baby, I was transferred as a senior auditor to the now internally self-governing Western Region. This time, to a headquarters appointment in Ibadan, starting a new experience managing a section of the Audit Department as it developed in the new indigenised service, under the leadership of a member of the Nigerian Civil Service. My role became more of a trainer and educator in accounting and auditing techniques, though at the same time I had responsibilities for the audit of government accounts. This role took me over the grant of independence to Nigeria in 1960 and my eventual leaving the service to return to England with my family in 1963. The photograph above is of me with the newly appointed Director of Audit, Western Region and some of my staff on my leaving ceremony.

After independence the audit departments in Nigeria became part of its new Auditor-General functions, established by law with similar responsibilities and role. Today's Nigerian Federal Auditor-General function has its own website with a vision of: promoting accountability in management of public funds, responsible financial management, and auditing of Government Statutory Corporations, Commissions, Activities and Agencies.

The legacy of the Colonial Audit Service is there today in all the Commonwealth members of the International Organisation of Supreme Audit Institutes (INTOSAI), affiliated to the United Nations. Founded in 1953, this organisation, with a 190 country membership, has established its own auditing standards and ethics as a benchmark for all its members. With only a few exceptions all the now Auditor- Generals of the Commonwealth countries promote their membership of INTOSAI as a standard of their independence and quality of audit.

On the Malaysian National Audit Department website I was proud to see the following recognition of the Colonial Service in which I started my career. Such a legacy is there, across all those past colonies and protectorates served by the Colonial Audit Service in the 20th century;

Existing audit institutes....were merged in 1932 and placed under the Director of Colonial Audit centralised in London. Auditing and the preparation of the audit report were carried out by Auditor of the Straits Settlements and the Federated Malay States in Kuala Lumpur. When the Federation of Malaya attained its independence in 1957, the post of Director of Audit Malaya was changed to the Auditor-General.

Commonwealth core values and principles which all Colonial Audit Service officers, indeed all colonial officers, will recognise and must be proud of in the legacies they left, form the content of the recently enacted Commonwealth Charter, signed by all Commonwealth Heads of Governments in December 2012, enacted in the UK in March 2013 by Command of the Queen. Its values and principles are still those promoted and practised during the Twentieth Century and earlier by the British Colonial Office and the officers it employed (see website: www.thecommonwealth.ora/our-charter)

Africa Map
1955 Map of Kaduna Region
Colony Profile
Originally Published
OSPA Journal 107: April 2014
Colonial Audit Department


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