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Guidance to SAIs in times of crisis 

The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in a variety extraordinary responses by our respective governments in order to cope with the global crisis. At the same time supreme audit institutions are grappling how best to respond and how to add maximum value during these challenging times.

Governments’ success at addressing the challenges of the pandemic, both in health and economic terms, will ultimately – when the worst of the crisis has dissipated – will be measured largely on our government’s ability to account to all involved, and most importantly citizens, that the various interventions had indeed reached their intended targets, and had done so without instances of misappropriation, fraud or corruption. Commentators across the world, political and economic, are already starting to remind our governments that transparency and accountability cannot take a backseat during the extraordinary COVID-19 crisis.

As SAIs we are fortunate to have access a series of well-consider guidelines produced over the years by INTOSAI’s Knowledge Sharing Committee that have been distilled from various valuable experiences by SAIs during previous instances of serious crises. The ISSAI 5500 series enables us as SAIs to respond decisively in times of crisis. These guidelines deal with a wide range of considerations from testing government’s preparedness to deal with disasters, to explicitly focusing on how audit offices respond to the increased risk of fraud and corruption during and subsequent to disasters.[1]

The COVID-19 crisis has illustrated the value of guidance material that augments the fundamental audit principles. Such documents – henceforth to be known as GUIDS in INTOSAI’s framework for professional pronouncements – provide context-specific guidance and good practices of immense value to SAIs when they do not have time to research and develop their own guidelines. This enables SAIs to benefit from the insights gained from past experiences, collected and expertly organised into valuable guidance.

In addition, a number of INTOSAI bodies have taken actions to augment this body of knowledge.

  • The CBC will continue with our existing programme of webinars under the leadership of the SAI Sweden as Chair of the CBC work stream on Auditing in Complex and Challenging Contexts. A very topical webinar took place on 29 April and focused on the audit experiences of SAI of Sierra Leone during its real-time audit of the Ebola crisis in 2015.
  • INTOSAI’s Policy, Finance and Administration Committee has launched a COVID-19 Initiative to ensure continuity of operations within INTOSAI, and collecting and sharing practical, technical, and audit-related information and high-level lessons learned.
  • The Supervisory Committee on Emerging Issues of INTOSAI’s governing board, established to address emerging challenges faced by INTOSAI and individual SAIs, intends establishing expert group to monitor and analyze SAIs’ role and measures in the current pandemic, and to help coordinate and support the sharing of related knowledge.
  • Various INTOSAI regional organisations are issuing communication and preparing to advise its members SAIs.

SAIs are ideally equipped to play a value-adding role during this global crisis, and if we remain true to our INTOSAI motto, “mutual experience benefits all” together we can be even more capable and effective.

[1]  The 5500 series can be found at  ― they are under review, currently being consolidated into GUID 5330 as a project of the IFPP SDP 2017‑19 on “Consolidating and aligning the audit of disaster related aid with ISSAI 100” for endorsement at the next INTOSAI Governing Board meeting.