17 June: SAI-CSO cooperation and Citizen engagement
Civil Society relationships in the interest of strengthened accountability and transparency
INTOSAI Capacity Building Committee Webinars
Questions to and response from Ms Claire Schouten of the International Budget Partnership
Q: From Carolyn Lewis, SAI Jamaica: How does a SAI manage CSO relationships when members of the CSO are known to be align to a political party?
Q: From Sonam Delma, SAI Bhutan: CSOs and citizens can at times be biased. In such cases, how can SAIs manage and maintain neutrality in our opinions?
Q: From Sherazade Shafiq, Canadian Audit and Accountability Foundation: What guidance do you have for CSOs, on how they can engage in countries where the SAIs are still at the first level of engagement, (one way) not yet participatory? And can you provide an example of a CSO that proactively and successfully managed to engage with a SAI?
A: Mitigating concerns surrounding increased collaboration between audit institutions and civil society organizations:
There are various measures to allay the concerns expressed by audit officials and civil society groups regarding increased collaboration. First, the spectrum for collaboration between auditors and civil society is very large and collaboration can take any of a variety of forms depending on the comfort levels of either institution and/or the relevant country context. For example, civil society groups can directly participate in audits (as shown in the Philippines experience), or they can focus on demanding follow-up actions to audit findings and put pressure on the government to require the implementation of audit recommendations (as is done in Argentina), or they can identify entities that should be the subject of audits (as is done in South Korea). Further, civil society organizations can undertake independent audits, which complement the formal government audit (as is done in India and South Africa).
Second, concerns that audit findings are not geared towards citizen participation can be mitigated if audit institutions develop accessible and understandable reports that are freely available and widely distributed to the public in a timely manner and legislators hold public hearings on audit reports and publish minutes of meetings in which audit reports are discussed. In fact, Section 16 of INTOSAI’s Lima Declaration of Guidelines on Auditing Precepts is titled “Reporting to Parliament and General Public” and asks that Supreme Audit Institutions (SAI) be empowered by the national Constitution to report their findings publicly as “this will ensure extensive distribution and discussion, and enhance opportunities for enforcing the findings of the Supreme Audit Institution.” Section 17 expands on this point by encouraging SAIs to develop audit reports which “present the facts and their assessment in an objective, clear manner and be limited to essentials. The wording of the reports shall be precise and easy to understand.” If such information is made available, then it will facilitate the ability of citizens to understand legislative hearings.
Third, to mitigate concerns that close collaboration with civil society could compromise the neutrality of SAIs and to ensure that they are able to select partners from among civil society in a fair and effective manner, audit institutions can conduct audits in such a way that any citizen – irrespective of ideology and partisanship – has the opportunity to provide suggestions to the audit team. This could ensure that no one person or organization dominates and/or misuses the collaborative process. Alternatively, the procedure for selecting civil society partners can be made transparent to address concerns that governments may co-opt the civil society organizations that it selects to collaborate with audit institutions. One such measure can involve the creation of an independent board akin to the South Korean Citizen Audit Request Screening Committee. This committee (rather than the government) can select the appropriate organizations to collaborate with audit institutions during the conduct of audits.
There is a wide spectrum of collaboration between civil society groups and auditors. The different degrees of collaboration between auditors and civil society organizations can be classified into three categories.
Civil society organizations can conduct independent audits: Organizations like the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) have developed innovative social auditing processes that are independent of formal government audit processes. This approach has been adopted in several countries, including Kenya, the Occupied Palestinian Territories and South Africa. Similarly, Fundar in Mexico found problems with an HIV/AIDS prevention program when it conducted an independent investigation of the program accounts; an independent government audit of the same program later corroborated these findings.
Civil society organizations can use audit findings produced by government auditors to hold government agencies accountable: Organizations like the Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM) in South Africa publicize findings from government audit reports in press releases, radio talk shows and submissions to commissions of inquiry to demand action from agencies. It has also published a scorecard measuring the comparative compliance of various provincial agencies with public finance laws – and these scorecards draw in part on the findings of official audit reports. See more here.
Various CSOs are collaborating with SAIs to track and follow up on audit recommendations. ACIJ in Argentina, SEND Ghana, Freedom Forum in Nepal, the Budget Advocacy Network in Sierra Leone and CSOs such as HakiElimu and Sikika are engaging with SAIs to ensure responsiveness of government on audits on public services. Find out more here.
Civil society organizations can work closely with auditors: The Concerned Citizens of Abra for Good Governance (CCAGG) participated as a member of a government audit team undertaking performance audits of the public highways agency, while Procurement Watch Inc. accesses public agency documents which are in the possession of government auditors concomitantly with the conduct of formal government audits of these agencies to measure procurement irregularities in the Philippines. Citizens’ Coalition for Economic Justice (CCEJ) in South Korea actively uses the citizen audit request system to direct special audits on government projects identified by the organization as suffering from financial irregularities.
Questions to and response from Mr Aldo Adamo of SAI Peru/OLACEFS
Q: From Mandla Radebe, SAI South Africa: I do think the young auditors programme in the SAI of Peru is an excellent idea. But what I missed is how does it influence/impact the audit planning process?
A: The purpose of the Young Auditors’ Programme is to promote a culture of democracy and integrity in educational institutions. It seeks to generate competencies and skills in schoolchildren so that they learn to recognize and appreciate civic and social values, such as democracy, equality, participation, among others; as useful tools for social coexistence and can apply them in their future lives as active citizens.
In this context, students are trained to conduct school inspections with the support of their teachers. The facts observed by the students are communicated to the directors of the educational institutions so that they can be resolved within a time frame appropriate to their abilities. In the event that the deficiencies identified by the schoolchildren have not been resolved within the time proposed by the directors of the educational institutions, these observations are communicated to the higher levels of the education sector so that they can carry out the corresponding follow-up. Similarly, the facts are brought to the attention of the relevant departments of the SAI of Peru so that they can evaluate the relevance of the information and use it in audit planning. Additionally, the Guidelines for Modifying the Institutional Operating Plan 2020, include provisions that prioritize the implementation of control services or other activities in the SAI related to the mechanisms of citizen participation.
Q: From Chandra K. Bhandari, SAI Nepal: How can we encourage Citizens to get engage with SAIs specially when SAIs do not/ or are not able to provide financial incentives to them?
A: Within the framework of the implementation of the Citizen Control Monitors Programme in Peru, it was possible to identify that the majority of participants are young university students, whose main motivation was to learn and know more about the processes of SAIs and their interaction with the implementation of public policies executed through investment projects. Acquiring this “know-how” is more important for many of them than an economic incentive.
On the other hand, the motivation of citizens to get involved with SAIs is related to the question: What do I get out of my participation? The response should encompass the negative impact of the irregular situation on the citizen’s life, how it marks their life, his occupations and the damage it causes in general. However, citizens do not perceive deficiencies in public works as situations that necessarily involve them, because they only notice the direct and immediate damage, but not the effect generated by collateral situations that can cause as much or more damage than that which is directly perceived. For the above reasons, a change of perspective is necessary, not only of the citizens but also mainly among the public institutions that assume the control role, such as the SAIs. A new vision must be encouraged among citizens, beyond making them aware that the improperly invested resources come from the taxes that they pay, but also that the deficiencies mainly affect the opportunity for development and therefore their chances to improve their life conditions.