QUIS custodiet ipsos custodes?/ has always been a good question. Who judges the judges? Or, just as important, Who audits the auditors? The British government's highly respected National Audit Office (NAO) has been headed for the past 20 years by Sir John Bourn who began his civil service career almost fifty years ago. Yesterday Sir John announced his retirement from the post of Auditor General following revelations that during the past three years he had spent 365'000 pounds on travel and 27'000 pounds on restaurants. This information was released by the NAO following pressure from Liberal Democrat MPs. Sir John's move has avoided a difficult situation because the Auditor General is one of the few government officials who is protected from dismissal by the Government.
It is difficult to understand how one of Britain's most respected civil servants could have allowed himself to get in this disgraceful position. As recently as last year Sir John was appointed to a new position overseeing the ministerial code of conduct yet it is now clear that his own code of conduct was somewhat deficient. In three years he made 434 foreign trips, many in first class and often accompanied by his wife to San Francisco, the Bahamas, Lisbon and Venice. He accepted hospitality from companies with government contracts and his favourite London restaurants for business lunches were the Ritz, Savoy, Dorchester and Bibendum. A sad case.