Case Study IV: SAI Eritrea – Providing non-financial incentives
SAI Eritrea does not control who it recruits nor how much staff are paid. New entrants into the public sector with degrees in accounting are allocated to different government activities, including to the SAI, by the Civil Service Administration. The SAI has no say in who it gets. Wage rates are also centrally agreed and cannot be varied even for professionally qualified audit staff.
SAI Eritrea is committed to building the skills of all its staff, operating on the principle that no one is incapable of improvement. Working with the international donor community and with ACCA, it has a programme to professionalise auditing staff and it pays the tuition, registration ,and other costs of trainees. In addition to the formal accounting training, funds have also been secured from donors to enable staff to complete a Master’s qualification through distance learning.
Unable to reward staff financially, the Auditor General places his focus on softer staff management approaches. He maintains an open-door approach to staff, recognising that not only do they need access to good training but also that they need a sympathetic reception from the institution when they face issues and challenges in their personal life as well as their professional life. The SAI is strongly committed to equal opportunities ensuring that there is no discrimination on the basis of gender or ethnicity. Where possible women are given a priority in accessing training and other opportunities. The SAI is also committed to providing auditors with the tools they need to do their jobs effectively. At the moment, the SAI provides two laptop computers for every three staff and over the next few years the aim is to issue every staff member with their own computer.
During the COVID 19 pandemic, as a key state organisation, the SAI was not fully shut down, and audits continued at a limited scale. The SAI again demonstrated its commitment to staff by being one of the first state bodies to put in place robust controls and protection for staff, investing in hand sanitizers and masks.
Currently, Eritrea faces a severe shortage of qualified accountants. Once qualified SAI staff are highly attractive to the private sector and able to increase their salaries fourfold by working for one of the international mining companies. To ensure that the SAI receives some of the benefits for the training provided at public expense, staff are required to work for the SAI for four years after qualifying. However, at the end of this period, all qualified staff leave the SAI. While the SAI recognises that this exodus benefits Eritrea, the constant loss of qualified staff weakens the SAI and frustrates longer- term institutional strengthening plans.
Another challenge facing the SAI is that the accounting training is due to go on-line. However, internet connectivity is poor and there is a real risk that the SAI will not be able to avail itself of this new approach to delivering training.
The draft SAI legislation was revised recently and has been submitted to the Ministry of Justice. If the draft legislation is approved, the Auditor General will have greater independence and the power to hire and reward staff and to resolve the other challenges he is facing. In particular, he is optimistic that this will increase his power to recruit and retain high calibre staff and provide them with the opportunities and environment in which they can become highly skilled and effective auditors.