Applying the ISSAIs and closing the circle
The Professional Standards Committee (PSC) recently carried out a large consultation with Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs) worldwide as part of the planning for the Strategic Development Plan 2020-2025 (SDP). The SDP was created in 2016 to provide the general strategy and establish the work plan, listing all initiatives to be carried out towards the future development of the INTOSAI Framework for Professional Pronouncements (IFPP).
As part of this consultation, we at the PSC Secretariat, tried to understand better how SAIs in our community apply the standards, the influence they have on their audit practices, actual and potential benefits the standards bring to audit offices, and how they assess ISSAI implementation.
As I analysed the different contributions we received in this process, one of my main conclusions was that there seems to be very little awareness that, by implementing the standards, SAIs are also a critical part of the standard setting process. INTOSAI value chain, as it is currently on the strategic plan, presents us with a cycle that clearly shows the need for INTOSAI standards and guidance to respond to SAIs’ needs, and for their development to consider the monitoring and evaluation of their use in practice.
It is clear to me from the many surveys I have seen in INTOSAI, and which were once more confirmed by the replies we received from this consultation, that the standards produced by our organisation are important to the SAI community. INTOSAI pronouncements help SAIs to conduct audits of high quality, with a clear impact in accordance with methodology recognised worldwide. They provide harmonisation of practices through a common frame of reference, helping address common public sector-related audit matters. They also represent a basic framework for measuring performance and SAI capacity building.
To continue to best serve SAIs, and maintain their positive impact in audit practices, they need to keep fulfilling the expectation that they are up-to-date and reflect an acceptable minimum level in the practices of all SAIs and, if implemented, will improve the quality of their work. Their wide applicability is also an important element to be emphasised, and uniformity, harmonisation, and a common frame of reference were cited by many respondents.
I am convinced that the best way to guarantee continued relevance and usefulness of the pronouncements in the IFPP to SAIs is to make sure that experience and practical information about their implementation can feedback into the standard setting process, closing the circle and strengthening the process as a whole. The strategic priority number five of the PSC in the current INTOSAI strategic plan recognizes this important link.
One of my hypotheses as the reason we have not been too effective in gathering this information, could be that most SAIs use INTOSAI standards as basis of their own standards, so actual or perceived gaps or any need for adaptation (or calibration) are covered in their own national standards. Nevertheless, methodology and quality control departments within SAIs possibly have valuable practical information to share. Results of application of assessment tools such as SAI-PMF and others can also be sources of information.
Individual narratives of successful stories of ISSAI implementation in SAIs can help inspire others and show real examples of positive change. However, concrete data on the use of the pronouncements, identifying possible needs, gaps, issues with clarity and applicability among others when considered together can show larger trends and have an impact in the framework, improving it for the SAI community as a whole.