Case Study II: SAI Sierra Leone – Initial gain tailing off
Prior to 2004, SAI Sierra Leone had no control over the recruitment and retention of staff. The Public Service Commission managed all human resource issues and SAI staff were paid the same as other public servants. This changed in 2004 when the new audit act was put into operation. While the government retained control over the overall budget, the SAI was able to recruit its own staff and set the terms and conditions.
New salary scales were set at slightly over the prevailing rate in the private sector so that the SAI could recruit both high quality, entry level staff and more experienced management grade staff. The salary scale adopted comprised a base rate plus a professional allowance for staff once they were qualified and had gained entry to the professional institute. Staff were put through professional accountancy training and the costs, for example, of the training, books, and examinations, were covered by the SAI at the first sitting. If not, they could re-sit at their own expense and be reimbursed when successful.
In 2013, in recognition that the organisation had built up a cadre of qualified staff, and to motivate them to stay, the SAI began to promote internally. Open recruitment was retained only for entry level staff and for Deputy Auditor Generals.
Since 2018, the SAI has started to lose professionally qualified financial auditors again. It is not yet at a worrying level but something the SAI is watching carefully. The government had imposed a salary freeze five years earlier and the SAI had followed this action. However, the government had made exceptions in some areas, for example the Ministry of Finance, Internal Audit and the Accountant General’s Department. These Departments have been able to increase staff salaries which put them ahead of the SAI in some areas and some staff have left. Similarly, salaries in the private sector are also now slightly ahead of those in the SAI and during recruitment of entry level staff some are rejecting offers once they know what salaries they will receive.
The SAI has made the case for salary increases to the President who is broadly supportive. However, the county is facing serious economic difficulties and the public sector wage bill is no longer affordable and needs to be reduced. The Ministry of Finance is resisting requests to increase the SAI’s budget. There is a new parliament and public accounts committee, but they are only gradually beginning to understand their oversight responsibilities and the role of the SAI so are not yet allies. Also, while international donors were once very supportive of the SAI, they now see it as a mature successful organisation no longer in need to their assistance.
In the short term, SAI Sierra Leone is seeking to maintain the motivation of staff by being open with them about the challenges being faced, by providing increased training opportunities, for example to become CISA qualified IT auditors, through the promotion system and keeping staff stimulated through job rotations and interesting work opportunities. The SAI is also one of only three organisations in the country which have obtained ACCA accredited employer status, increasing its attractiveness when recruiting new trainees.