No SAI is an island
Haraka haraka haina baraka is a Swahili proverb that directly translated says “Hurry, hurry, has no blessings”. This is the English equivalent of the expression “more haste less speed”. If something is important and needs to be done well then it is should not be hurried just for the sake of completing it quickly.
This is a wise proverb for many aspects of life. In my experience, this is particularly crucial when seeking to build the capacity of institutions. For the last ten years, the Office of the Auditor General of Norway (OAGN) has been actively involved in helping strengthen the capacity of supreme audit institutions (SAIs) in developing countries and newly emerging democracies. What has struck me most is the long term perspective and endurance one has to have as a partner in trying to support often underfinanced, non-independent and understaffed SAIs in fragile countries. That is also why sister organisations, like my own, have not only an obligation to support other SAIs, but why we are often also in a better position to work on a long term basis with partner SAIs than private consultancies with staff on short term contracts. You need time if you want to contribute to lasting changes. The technical aspects of training auditors, introducing new standards, making manuals, and drafting a strategic plan are relatively easy to fix and can be signed off within a short time frame. If the goal, however, is to build mutual trust and change the way an organization works, reports and influences the society in which it operates, the supporting partner has to be prepared for a long and bumpy road. Our office, like others in the SAI community, has been ready for this journey when we enter into partnerships – as long as our partner is equally committed. It obviously takes two to tango!
My generation of Norwegians has enjoyed a sharp rise in its standard of living over the last 40 years; aided by the competent and transparent management of our country’s petroleum resources. Receiving many requests for support from other SAIs, as their countries embark on petroleum production, made us realize that our SAI may not only have a moral obligation to support SAIs in such a context, but that we might also have a comparative advantage in assisting other SAIs when it comes to auditing the petroleum sector. Again, this is a sector where we have observed that it takes time for a country to develop strong institutions to help ensure that windfalls from the sector benefit the citizens of the country. So to help other SAIs play a constructive role in auditing their government’s engagement with the petroleum industry, we have now established a petroleum programme. The aim of this programme is to help colleagues in other SAIs improve their understanding of the petroleum industry and build the auditing skills of staff. It would be an excellent idea for other well-resourced SAIs to explore their comparative advantages to see where they are best placed to offer targeted sector specific support to partner SAIs.
As the OAGN has celebrated its 200 years anniversary this year, I have also been reminded of the importance of time. There have been periods in our SAI’s history that can be described as a dark age for public auditing. Some 100 years ago, Norway was characterized by corruption and a lack of transparency. Our move towards being a professional audit office in a transparent country has not happened quickly nor in isolation. These improvements are very much a result of our active involvement in the global community of SAIs and our capacity to learn and adapt over time.
To paraphrase the English Elizabethan poet, John Donne: No SAI is an island, entire of itself.