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Government has evolved drastically in recent years becoming more complex with increased and competing needs, despite its limited resources to effectively deliver services to citizens.

It therefore has become critical that auditors who provide assurance in this environment are adequately equipped to do so. Enter the recently published ISSAI 150 Auditor Competence, dubbed a game changer for supreme audit institutions (SAIs). The standards outlined in ISSAI 150 seeks to expand the suite of the INTOSAI Framework for Professional Pronouncements (IFPP) to include requirements related to auditor competencies relevant for a SAI environment. This is in addition to those already available for the organisation of SAIs, as well as the conducting of value-adding auditing work.

If auditors are a vital component to strengthening the accountability, transparency and integrity of government and its public sector entities, as well demonstrating ongoing relevance to citizens, Parliament and stakeholders as envisioned in INTOSAI-P 12: The value and benefits of supreme audit institutions, then the question of capacity is crucial.

ISSAI 150 provides the framework for SAIs to maintain a focus on auditor competence, from recruitment, to development, maintenance and assessment.

Professionalising the public sector

In a number of jurisdictions, the management of public resources is often a challenge. This is indicative from the negative audit outcomes and assessments that highlight the efficacy of public financial management.

SAIs are the key role-players in the public accountability ecosystem, as they facilitate those charged with responsibility over public financial resources to account for their stewardship. In addition, the implementation of key reforms such as accrual accounting and the adoption of modernised budgeting processes, requires a higher degree of accounting expertise.

However, as auditing is ultimately about providing assurance over accounting and reporting, it is also important that auditors keep abreast of these developments. In practice, this would enable auditors to be better placed to ask relevant questions while being able to provide value-adding recommendations for improvements.

Unfortunately, in many countries those working in public sector finance roles are often not professionalised, so they are not regulated by a professional organisation, nor are they mandated to continue to upskill themselves through life-long learning opportunities.

In this context the development and maintenance of auditor competence is aligned to the professionalisation agenda, which can be interpreted as the need to capacitate the public sector with competent, ethical and influential professionals who support accountability, transparency and good financial governance.

The SAI as a champion for a professional public sector

The issuing of the ISSAI 150 standard firmly solidifies the SAI as a champion for staff that have the required levels of competence, expertise, and integrity in the execution of their roles. This enhances the IFPP from supporting and highlighting the auditor competence as a principle, to a requirement that is accompanied by application guidance.

This standard serves as a tool for the development of capacity for SAIs, which further increases the role of a SAI as a key partner in the public sector accountability ecosystem.  Applying the provisions of ISSAI 150 provides a SAI with an opportunity to lead by example by having the appropriate capacity to carry out its mandate.

The power of partnerships – Creating value together

The African Professionalisation Initiative (API), an initiative created to professionalise public sector accountancy, is reliant on partnerships at continental and country-level, to ensure change that is systematic and sustainable in terms of how governments capacitates those who fulfil finance-related roles.

For this to take effect, the API works with accountants-general, auditors-general and professional accountancy organisations (PAOs) on the African continent, to lead the charge of changing the environment.

SAIs are therefore also important stakeholders, due to their roles and influence in the public sector, as well as key to initiatives that take shape at country-level. The involvement of SAIs at country-level is often a powerful, championing voice for public sector professionalisation, strategically however, a number of SAIs may also use this opportunity to give effect to the provisions of ISSAI 150 and provide a professionalisation pathway for their auditors.

A SAI is also required to implement the following to ensure auditor competence:

  • to determine and document relevant competencies required for all auditors to fulfil the SAI mandate. The API also has a Competency Framework, that it has adopted, which contains an appropriate focus on public sector auditing, along with other pertinent areas of public financial management.
  • to establish dedicated pathways for professional development of auditors, specifically tailored to the SAIs mandate, regulatory framework, organisation structure and needs. A number of different possibilities are available to SAIs to implement, as indicated in the accompanying guidance document. These options also include API a viable pathway for SAIs in most jurisdictions, as it ensures the development of competencies, while opening the door for a professional home for SAI auditors through engagements with the PAO.
  • to develop and implement means for assessment of competencies and following up of auditor development progression or self-development on a periodic basis. The API provides assessment for what has been learned in a way that emphasizes the readiness of a SAI auditor to implement in their work.

Leveraging our synergies – The SAI and the PAO

The API advocates for key stakeholders to work together to ensure an effectively functioning public sector, and this is enhanced by a partnership between a SAI and a PAO.

While the public sector, and specifically the SAI, may be in need of enhanced capacity, PAOs are often able to assist in the development of such capacity, both at initial professional development, and as part of continuing professional development (CPD). It is thus important that a SAI engages with the PAO that works in its jurisdiction, to assess and agree on the level of support needed, and indeed possible, between the SAI and PAO.

The API, as part of its country-implementation methodology, provides a platform for this engagement to take place, while focusing on the professionalisation aspect of the conversation, however, despite any specific initiative taking place in the country, a strong partnership between the two entities can only enhance the value both bring to public sector at large.

About the API

Our Vision: An African public sector capacitated with competent, ethical and influential professionals who support accountability, transparency and good financial governance.

Our Mission: To grow the capacity of accountancy professionals in the African public sector for enhanced service delivery.

The API Organisation and Learning Programmes

The API is an independent non-profit organisation whose primary objective is to strengthen the capacity and knowledge base of accounting and auditing professionals in the African public sector to enhance accounting and auditing service delivery to the citizens of Africa.

The API Learning Programme aims to achieve the above institutional goal as a partnership between the accountancy profession (represented by the Pan African Federation of Accountants (“PAFA”)), accountants general or their equivalent (currently being represented by the East and Southern African Association of Accountants (“ESAAG” – and in the near future the Association of African Accountants General – “AAAG”), and supreme audit institutions or courts of auditors (represented by the English (“AFROSAI-E”) and French (“CREFIAF”) language sub-groups of the African Organisation of Supreme Audit Institutions (“AFROSAI”).

For more information on API: