Tempus fugit or how to make friends and keep them while peer-reviewing a SAI

Aug 22, 2018

According to history, Publius Vergilius Maro (also known as Virgil to the English-speaking world) spent substantial time in the years 37–29 BC on a long didactic hexameter poem called Georgics (from Greek, “On Working the Earth”). The themes of the Georgics were instructions of methods for running a farm. In Georgics, Virgil follows the “how to”-tradition of the Greek and Hellenic poets. The four books of Georgics focus respectively on: raising crops and trees (book 1 and 2); livestock and horses (book 3); and beekeeping and the qualities of bees (book 4).

The expression Tempus fugit (usually translated into English as “time flies”)  comes from the book 3, where it appears as fugit inreparabile tempus: “it escapes, irretrievable time”. The English form is often merely descriptive: “time flies like the wind”, or “time flies when you’re having fun”. And yes, time does fly when you are having fun, we all know that.

The SAI of Latvia approached six SAIs (SAI of Denmark, Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, USA and European Court of Auditors) in 2014 with a request to perform a peer review of our office. The peer review team members comprised seven auditors, which was quite a large international team. As is often the case with international teams originating from diverse cultural backgrounds, there was a big question mark – how would it all work? Not just as professionals, but also as people, ordinary, simple human beings. Although there was a common goal (a peer review report), the path towards it was sometimes thorny and difficult, including many, many hours, agreements and disagreements, frequent work after regular working hours, weekends, late nights in the hotel and at the home SAI, behind a computer screen or listing paper format documents, sometimes hundreds of pages. All auditors know the feeling.

The peer review team handed over the final report, after three visits and five months of really, really intensive work. The final report delivered, was our peer reviewing team going their separate ways to their home SAI, never to see each other again? No, they were not, they kept in contact afterwards, and this friendly relationship culminated in their reunion at a long weekend in the team leader´s hometown – Bratislava. They met a year later on a holiday break. And they are to meet again this year in Lisbon, Portugal for another private holiday.

There must be a really strong professional and personal bond there and an international, transcontinental tradition in the making. True exchange of expert knowledge, warm-hearted cooperation at work and extraordinary inter-human relationships after the conclusion of the task, bear witness to a very special story that the INTOSAI community most likely has not experienced so far, at least not to common knowledge.

And here we are, with Virgil behind, asking international peer review teams and our international community his question: “Note how the time flies… make most of it… and are you having fun…. during and after peer review?”

What is the moral of this story? A capacity building exercise like international peer review can bear precious fruits in the form of an exceptional friendship reaching across countries and continents. And our protagonists’ message: have fun, it is worthwhile.

Imrich Gál

SAI Slovakia