Reality check: External Auditing
Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs) assess how governments
manage their financial resources.
By auditing public spending, SAIs strengthen the
accountability, effectiveness and transparency of public administration and contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
SAIs face the ongoing challenges of perceived independence and work with constrained financial and human resources. The important role of these institutions is not always publicly appreciated, and their reports too often do not lead to significant changes as per their recommendations. The reports of the SAIs are often tabled in Parliament but hardly acted upon. The important issues raised by SAIs are not always followed-up and corrective measures not put in place. This lack of intervention in curbing identified irregular and wasteful expenditure by governments contributes to resources being misdirected from much needed government services to the most vulnerable citizens.
The impact: stalling of infrastructure projects such as unfinished roads or power plants, salaries of ghost workers being paid while in other instances public sector employees do not receive their salary on time, state-owned enterprises that accumulate unsustainable amounts of debt and need to be bailed out.
This contributes to citizens abstaining from paying taxes in the future and as a consequent, governments’ ability to mobilise resources internally is adversely affected and martialized citizens are disproportionately impacted.
SAIs have considerable potential to make an important contribution to the implementation of the SDGs. They are key players when it comes to controlling the efficient and effective use of public funds. Particularly in Sub Saharan Africa the performance of government and administration is often insufficient, hampering the delivery of mostly needed public services such as health or education. The potential of African SAIs to improve the performance of the public sector through audits and evaluations was however not fully exploited in the context of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
In 2016 SAIs from across Africa started reflecting on their responsibility to contribute to the SDGs. In their discussions they emphasised that in order to remain relevant in the future, they needed to focus on improving public financial management systems so that funds can efficiently and effectively be used towards reaching the SDGs. SAIs can contribute to the SDGs in different ways:
The main partner of GIZ’s Good Financial Governance (GFG II) in Africa programme in the area of External Auditing is the African Organisation of Supreme Audit Institutions (AFROSAI), an Africa-wide network aimed at promoting the exchange of ideas and experiences among member SAIs. The programme supports AFROSAI and its language subgroups for English and French speaking countries, its technical committees on capacity building and knowledge sharing and its working groups, notably on environmental audit by providing strategic, technical and organisational expertise and advisory services.
The GFG in Africa programme supports AFROSAI in the following strategic priorities:
It also cooperates with AFROSAI organs to strengthen the effectiveness of the network, supporting the organisational review through the revision of its statutes and the development of the new strategic plan 2021-2026.
A key area of the Strategic Plan is the explicit focus on gender equity as a topic to be dealt with in capacity building. AFROSAI has developed a Gender Strategy focusing on supporting women to rise to decision-making positions, the establishment of gender mainstreaming in SAIs, and gender as a topic or criterion in audits. The Women Leadership Academy (WLA), developed by AFROSAI and GIZ, has a unique human capacity development format that aims at strengthening women in their leadership skills, strategic thinking, and project and change management. During the two first editions of the Women Leadership Academy, 30 women were trained and implemented reform projects in their respective SAIs.
Since 2021, GIZ supports the African Organization of English-speaking Supreme Audit Institutions (AFROSAI-E), the English language subgroup of AFROSAI, in the area of Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E). This is done through the development of a web-based M&E system encompassing the organizations, strategic and operational plan as well as individual capacity development plans for their 26 member SAIs. The M&E system effectively connects M&E practitioners at national level with the AFROSAI-E executive secretariat in Pretoria, South Africa. AFROSAI-E is being hosted by the Auditor General of South Africa.
In the area of communication and stakeholder engagement, GFG in Africa supported AFROSAI-E in the development of guidance and a training module on the use of digital communication channels for SAIs in 2021. Furthermore, the programme supported the development of an AFROSAI-E toolkit aimed at enhancing the collaboration between parliamentary accounts committees (PACs) and SAIs at national level. This will be complemented with additional training modules and guidance on simplified report writing as well as the collaboration between SAIs and civil society organizations (CSOs). In the Westminster (also parliamentary) accountability model, SAIs heavily depend on the effectiveness of PACs and other accountability actors, such as CSOs and media. Hence, it is essential for SAIs to have productive relationships with all actors along the PFM accountability chain.
In 2020, with support from the GFG in Africa programme, AFROSAI-E has developed a pocket guide for SAIs to strengthen their resilience in times of disaster. The pocket guide provides practical recommendations and guidance for SAIs on how to conduct themselves before, during and after a disaster. The development of the pocket guide was prompted by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and the challenges which SAIs experienced in responding to this crisis. SAIs can use an array of instruments and tools in ensuring that governments comply with principles of good financial governance, specifically transparency and efficiency, in particular in times of crisis.
Since 2021, GIZ supports AFROSAI-E in strengthening the role of SAIs in combatting corruption and illicit financial flows form public monies. This is against the backdrop of the 2019 Conference of the State Parties (COSP) of the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) which endorsed a declaration to enhance the collaboration between SAIs and Anti-Corruption Authorities (ACAs) to more effectively prevent and fight corruption (Resolution 8/13). AFROSAI-E and EAAACA supported by GIZ are jointly implementing a research project to assess the state of collaboration between SAIs and ACAs in several East-African countries. The organizations plan to develop and implement a good practice collaboration framework for SAIs and ACAs at national level which shall start in 2023.
The generalisation of smartphones on the streets in Africa’s urban centres is a chance for enhanced accountability. Through a new mobile application Ghanaian Citizens can now quickly provide feedback to the Auditor General on their public service experience. This data can then be used by auditors to define priority audit areas and understand were public services delivery problems occur. In 2019, the Ghana Audit Service (GAS) developed the CITIZENEYE app with support from GFG and in collaboration with AFROSAI-E. CITIZENEYE is the first mobile application in Africa that allows citizens to report public service delivery issues to the Auditor General. Since 2021, AFROSAI-E and GFG work with several SAIs in the region in developing more technology-driven solutions to strengthen the engagement between SAIs and citizens.
Other areas of collaboration with AFROSAI-E encompass the strengthening of SAI’s ICT capacities through the implementation of the Supreme Audit Institution Information Technology Maturity Assessment (SAI ITMA) tool. SAI ITMA was initially developed by GIZ in 2019, rolled out in three Latin-American countries and first applied in Sub-Saharan Africa in Malawi with support from AFROSAI-E and GIZ. SAI ITMA is a diagnostic assessment tool with the objective of drawing attention to those IT related areas in the SAI, such as IT audit capabilities, IT infrastructure and internal IT processes that need to be strengthened and may require support from external parties (e.g. development partners). Further areas of support include the issue of senior leadership development and strengthening the independence of SAIs.
Functioning public financial management (PFM) systems are central for achieving all Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), as highlighted under SDG 16 which emphasises the importance of effective and accountable institutions. In simple words: funding the goals will only work if PFM systems function efficiently. Against this backdrop, AFROSAI-E and GIZ developed a new tool for auditors, the PFM Reporting Framework, which is currently used by Supreme Audit Institutions in over 15 countries in Africa, Europe and Latin America.
The PFM Reporting Framework is an excel-based tool which allows auditors to assess the performance of public financial management processes along the whole budget cycle. It looks specifically at the ability of the PFM system to support the implementation of SDGs. Moreover, it allows auditors to verify the degree of disaster preparedness of the PFM system. The assessment covers core PFM institutions such as the Ministry of Finance, Parliament and Revenue Authority, as well as important sector ministries and departments. The PFM Reporting Framework therefore strengthens the capacities of SAIs to holistically audit PFM systems. GIZ supports AFROSAI-E in training SAIs in the use of the tool, rolling it out in their respective countries and engaging stakeholders to strengthen audit impact.
Learn more about the Public Financial Management Reporting Framework: https://pfmreporting-tool.com/
Environmental issues such as pollution or the effects of climate change do not stop at national borders. This means that individual countries can’t address these issues on their own and need to develop international agreements and institutions. Yet the effectiveness of these institutions is rarely assessed. Since the outset, the GFG programme has provided support to landmark audits, such as the joint environmental audit on the drying up of Lake Chad which focused on auditing the effectiveness of the Lake Chad Basin Commission as well as national institutions. This audit was executed by the SAIs of the bordering countries ‒ Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria ‒ under the guidance of AFROSAI. The results, published in a Joint Environmental Audit Report, including a set of practical recommendations for policy-makers, were submitted to the Chadian and the Nigerian presidents, as well as to the Lake Chad Basin Commission. This is the first joint environmental audit in the region – an example of how SAIs can contribute to better management of global public goods.
Building on the experience of the Lake Chad audit, AFROSAI’s Working Group on Environmental Auditing (WGEA) has implemented a joint audit on the management of the Congo Forest Basin with the support of GFG in Africa Programme, AFROSAI WGEA initiated a joint audit on Niger river of which the planning workshop brought together seven (9) countries namely Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Niger and Nigeria. The planning workshop took place in the week 29 Nov -3 Dec 2021 in Niamey, Niger aimed at discussing and adopting the audit strategy, methodology and calendar of different activities for the Congo Forest Basin.
The programme has also supported the implementation of a coordinated audit on Corruption as driver of Illicit Financial Flows. The objective of the coordinated audit was to review the domestication and implementation of two international conventions against corruption, the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption (AUCPCC) and the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC). The focus was on two systems that are essential in fighting corruption as a driver of IFFs: Asset Declarations Regime for public officials and the Public Procurement System.
It is a fact that joining efforts through cooperative and joint audits has provided SAIs with the opportunity to experience how and the extent to which cooperative audits can lead to more synergies, create opportunities for beneficial collaboration between SAIs, to share experiences and good practices between different countries while also providing for opportunities to learn from sister countries. This is an experience that needs to be replicated and extended to other complex subjects for more gains.
For more information on AFROSAI please visit www.afrosai.org