The potential of engaging in collaborative activities such as cooperative audits
Through my Supreme Audit Institution (SAI), I graciously participated during 2017/18 as an expert (resource person) in the planning and quality revision stages of an international cooperative (performance and compliance) audit on illicit financial flows (IFFs) in Africa. During the 2017/18 meeting, corruption was set as an important facilitator of all other main known drivers of IFFs.
It was a unique experience due to several factors.
Firstly, the potential of engaging in collaborative activities, which is high if we acknowledge that the world has over a trillion hours a year of free time to commit to shared projects., Usually, people use this free time to volunteer, contribute and collaborate on large, sometimes global, projects. In this instance, I did contribute and collaborate in this regional, potentially global, project, but during my work hours.
Secondly, the specific environment of the audit – where twelve SAI from Anglophone and Francophone Africa took part in the joint planning, undertook fieldwork, and concluded the audit in 2018. This context required a huge amount of both flexibility (we had to deal with very different national backgrounds and contexts) and innovation.
For me, this was mainly evident during the quality revision workshop that took place in November 2017, where all – auditors, sponsors and experts – had the opportunity to exchange face-to-face (network) and learn from each other.
In this particular case, the traditional quality revision plan was not followed, as all national teams were invited to peer review each other. That way, learning was being maximized (learning from peers) while decision-making was empowered (the teams were, themselves, the quality revision experts).
To carry out this quality revision, it was proposed that all teams make use of a short checklist. As such, experts had the opportunity to expand their influence, but in a smooth way. Furthermore, the checklist was simple: the teams were free to extend it or adapt it, as the learning process with peers was the main concern.
While the teams were reviewing, I had the opportunity to exchange and learn with other experts, but mostly with the participants from all twelve countries, Anglophone and Francophone, transcending national barriers and feeding what was about to become a network. In fact, I came to belong to a priceless extended network.
The potential global impact of this regional project is huge, as the methodological approach was designed in such a way that it can now be simply copied, adapted or improved (benchmarking) by other SAIs and applied in other regions, for the benefit of all.
This experience reminds me of Jürgen Habermas (German philosopher and sociologist in the tradition of critical theory and pragmatism), who has called attention to the fact that our species does not merely create knowledge (latin sapientia), but also believes.
In my view, this statement also applies to cooperative audits, as we, as social beings, can imprint in every human endeavor or project, including cooperative audits, a commensurate ethics of foresight and responsibility and, as individuals, dare to think exponentially, rather than linearly.
Sónia Palmira Pimentel Fernandes