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"The accountant-whistleblower makes a major contribution to transparency"

Gilles Johanet, Attorney General at the Court of Auditors, is concerned about the experiment of removing the divorce between the authorizing officer and the auditor in the management of public expenditure.

Interviewed by Benoît Floc & h; Posted today at 11:38 AM

Time for Play 6 minutes.

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The government plans to reform the way government money is spent. So far, the person who decides on the costs is not the one who pays. A way to fight corruption that was two centuries old. An experiment that is started this year will return to this fundamental separation: it is the authorizing officer who will take over the entire operation from now on. Gilles Johanet, Attorney General at the Court of Auditors, will speak about this for the Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, on Thursday 17 January. He explains how this evolution is potentially dangerous.

The government is launching an experiment this year that will soften the way government money is spent. What do you think?

The aim of this experiment is to return to a very old rule of public accounting: that of the separation between the authorizing officer and the accountant. What is it? This principle, which dates from 1820, is very simple: the authorizing officer, for example the minister, the mayor or the hospital director, decides on costs but does not pay for it. The person who manipulates public money is another person: the accountant. One person decides, the other pays.

This rule is very important because it is an extraordinary anti-corruption instrument. It is a guarantee that the money of the French is used correctly. Of course she did not prevent things from happening, but she is still very common. If the expense is not very clear, or if it is higher than what was decided, the accountant blocks and asks to see the coins. What the government will test is to place the auditor under the authority of the authorizing officer.

Read also Will the war of accountants and robots take place?

How is this problematic?

At the moment it is only an experiment, which is wise. But we have already carried out experiments in the same direction. And they were not very convincing. When the accountant loses his independence, we often discover problems.

In some large state-owned companies or in the government, the accountant has almost no power. He no longer checks. It is the authorizing officer who does everything. It has also happened, for example, that universities refuse to release the accountant from irregular expenses, while it was not for nothing and could not go against it: it was the chairman of the institution who had imposed it. I repeat: this separation between the person who determines the costs and the person who pays it, is a protection against corruption, poorly managed money, laxity.

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