Capacity Building in public sector auditing – The Journey to the Win

This is a collaborative article by the The Gambia National Audit Office’s Performance Audit Unit Staff, winners of The Prize 2020.

In a little over  five years, The Gambia National Audit Office has gone from establishing a performance audit unit, to winning the African Organization of English-speaking Supreme Audit Institutions (AFROSAI-E) 2020 Award for Best Performance Audit Report. The winning report,  “Emergency Obstetric Care In Public Health Facilities” was the first win of  the office for the prize, and its second report nomination since the prize was established in 2007.The first nominated report, was a performance Audit on the Storage and Distribution of Drugs in The Gambia in 2018. The Performance Audit function was established in 2015 and developed into a unit in 2019. Since then, we have submitted seven performance audit reports to the National Assembly of The Gambia on various topics such as health, education, electricity, fishery and environment management.

Beyond training: Tapping peer support to put experience into practice

The AFROSAI-E performance audit three-module training and peer support community presented an excellent opportunity to embark on our capacity-building initiatives for performance auditing. This training provides the auditors with an understanding of international standards, concepts, methods, and processes for performance auditing. It also enables them to gain practical experience in audits as after the first module training conducted by AFROSAI-E, the audit team was required to   complete a pre-study memorandum and a draft audit report in order to participate in the second and third modules respectively.

In 2015, two teams of six auditors were recruited from the regularity audit units for the AFROSAI-E performance audit three-module training. The three phases of the training module were previously offered face-to-face to the SAI auditors. – The Gambia NAO, like many other SAIs in the region, now draws on the existing capacity to participate in the first of the three phases virtually. Although the pandemic has changed how we share knowledge through these trainings, the impact and capacity development approaches have been reviewed and proven effective. The three-module training helped build our capacity as well as network with colleagues in the region. These networks still offer us an opportunity to continuously learn from each other and adapt to new best practices.

In the early days of the SAI’s performance auditing, we largely depended on peer and management reviews. Even though the management reviews were conducted by staff who were not very knowledgeable in performance audits, it still added value to the reports and this ensured quality assurance for the audit reports. Through the AFROSAI-E three-module training, we have now developed considerable capacity for a three-level quality control review of our audit works starting from the immediate Supervisor, to the Audit Manager then to the Director of Performance Audit. Though this is sometimes not possible depending on who takes part in the audits, the fact that the Emergency Obstetric Care report was the first audit engagement/project undertaken by this particular team of auditors demonstrates the effectiveness of our existing quality control systems.

The winning audit team drew on the guidance of the five trained performance auditors in the performance audit unit at the time, to complete the 2019/2020 AFROSAI-E performance audit three-module training. Evidently, the training extends beyond providing the necessary performance audit skills. It equally presents another challenge for the SAI to demonstrate its values and relevance in the democratic system. This time around, in maternal health. After all, ensuring that the report is impactful through action on its recommendations become the work of the SAI and, National Assembly, the auditees and other key stakeholders in ensuring impact of the report recommendations and lessons for improvement.

 The approach behind the capacity developments

The winning report is the result of a strong institutional commitment to quality and the willingness of the team to work to produce that result. Performance auditing is a highly information-based assessment. The audit is as good as the competence developed for it. Management, at best, can only advocate for this competence; it cannot impose it. An audit team must therefore have persistent determination and an open attitude to learning, and our staff have proven to have a strong sense towards that. So, management’s recognition of this fact and providing all the necessary support to the auditors as well as the team’s tendencies to produce the highest quality audit report possible are the key to successful performance auditing in our SAI.

As a result of the commitment of the auditor general and management to strengthening the Performance Audit Unit, the unit now comprises sixteen auditors, seven of whom were recruited in 2020.Four of the newly recruited staff will soon participate in AFROSAI-E performance audit three-module training. Ten have completed the AFROSAI-E performance audit three-module training and the Director of the unit has gone through a training on supervision and review, quality assurance and took refresher courses on report writing and data analysis with four of the unit members. The Director and one of the audit managers have also served as resource persons for trainings on performance audits with AFROSAI-E.

The future of performance auditing in SAI The Gambia is bright and promising. The SAI’s story inspires other SAIs in their capacity-building initiatives.  The journey was not expected to be easy. Yet, it presented an immense opportunity for the SAI to add a greater value to the lives of the citizens. The challenge that comes with performance auditing is having to develop competence for every audit – every audit is different and likely in a new area. This involves a lot of reading relevant documents and publications in the audit area. Performance audit reports from other SAIs also provide an invaluable source of guidance for auditors new to the field.

The SAI still faces a setback in the National Assembly discussion of our performance audit reports. None of the seven performance audit reports submitted have been discussed yet.  The discussion of the reports will help the legislative to hold those charged with governance to implement the recommendations. This would enhance governance and translate into the better service delivery to improve the lives of citizens.

However, the local media coverage of the winning report helped demonstrate our continued relevance and motivation. We continue to work hard, hoping that in the nearest future, the National Assembly will be equipped with the capacity to discuss the reports we submit, and follow up their recommendations with the executive. In the meantime, the SAI is engaging the relevant stakeholders to educate them on the importance of performance auditing in promoting accountability and transparency of government operations.