Case Study I: SAI Uganda – Progress made but challenges remain

How change began

In 2004, the Government of Uganda made substantial changes to the Constitution which strengthened the position of the Auditor General, giving him the same status and protections as the Chief Justice. i.e. not under the control of any persons or authorities. Prior to that the Constitution provided for the role of the Auditor General but the incumbent had limited protection and could be easily dismissed. Even after the Constitutional change the SAI was not truly independent. The Public Service Commission was responsible for the appointment of all staff and fixing their remuneration and those who did not like the SAI’s reports had power to sue the Auditor General directly – reducing his powers and slowing down the release of critical reports.

 

Creation of the new National Audit Act

As a result of slow and persistent lobbying by the SAI, a new Audit Bill was drafted and widely discussed. At one stage, a working group including the SAI, the Ministry of Finance and the Public Accounts Committee visited the UK National Audit Office in London and had a series of closed meetings where they collectively hammered out an agreement on the draft bill. The Audit bill was approved by the Parliament in 2008.The new Audit Act set up the Office of the Auditor General as a corporate entity, which could sue and be sued, gave the SAI powers to conduct value for money or performance audits, and enabled it to recruit and manage its own staff. 

 

Setting new salary scales

The Auditor General had started to invest heavily in training staff and had begun to develop a cadre of professionally qualified financial auditors. However, wages were too low, and some staff left for more lucrative roles in the private sector. With the new powers over staffing, the SAI undertook a functional review which identified critical new posts which needed to be created, and efficiencies which could be made. In parallel, it commissioned a private sector consultancy to undertake a pay and grading exercise to compare salaries for professionally qualified financial staff in the SAI with the salaries paid to similar staff working for the state-owned enterprise, particularly the National Revenue Authority, and in the private sector. It was recognised that because of such public sector benefits as job security and pensions, the SAI did not need to equal private sector pay, but the exercise provided a useful comparator. A budget was drawn up to implement the re-structure and the adoption of the new salary scales, it was presented to the government and was funded. 

There was an argument at the time as to whether this increase should be allocated only to those staff who were professionally qualified or to all staff. The decision was made that this was an opportunity to reward the loyalty of all staff who had laboured for years on low wages and everyone received the increase. The SAI has subsequently continued to invest heavily in professional and general training, and to base promotion on merit. As a result, the SAI has been able to gradually jettison underperforming staff through retirements, and re-allocations. All management and professional staff are on five-year contracts and, to aid retention, they receive an annual bonus.

While at the end of the day, it is the SAI which decides on who it appoints, it has continued to work in conjunction with the Public Service Commission recognising their professional skills in human resource management and ensuring that it complies with HR legislation and rules. As a result, the Public Service Commission advertises positions on behalf of the SAI, conducts the initial short listing against criteria provided by the SAI and generally provides technical guidance and assurance to the SAI. The SAI then takes over conducting the final interviews and assessments and confirming the appointments.

 

On-going challenges

The changes have had a major impact on the quality of the staff in the SAI and on the audit work. Initially, the SAI was able to recruit from not only other parts of the public sector but also from the private sector. However, salaries have not kept pace with inflation and with improvements elsewhere. The SAI is not losing currently many professionally qualified financial auditors. In part this is because, overall Uganda has seen a major investment in training and accountants are not in short supply across the country but also the SAI is recognised as a good employer, providing interesting and worthwhile work for staff, ample opportunities for developing new skills, especially in IT, and its reputation is as good as the private sector.

Nevertheless, the SAI still finds difficulty in recruiting and retaining technical experts – e.g. geologists and on other fronts is once again being outbid by parastatals. It is continuing to make the argument to parliament and to the government for increased budgets to pay the salary increases which it believes are necessary. It believes that by continuing to produce high profile, high quality work, especially in such areas as forensic audits and to produce important impacts including the jailing of corrupt senior civil servants, then the value of the SAI’s efforts will be recognised and budgetary improvements easer to obtain.

Another challenge, the SAI continues to face is how to place high calibre staff in its regional offices. Staff who have families may be reluctant to take on postings up country and incentives are needed. The SAI is currently considering such strategies as making it mandatory for anyone seeking promotion to have spent some time in a regional office but also changing the nature of the working week so that staff in regional offices can have more frequent long weekends to return to the capital. 

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