Promoting good financial governance within an SAI’s structure –most often, by means of improving SAI accountability and enforcing anti-corruption processes – is a difficult task for all involved donor and implementers organizations depending on the national and institutional culture where SAI in inserted. Contrarily to what most optimistic auditors would expect, sometimes the best help is…not to help (any)more.
The following (disguised) case can illustrate quite well when the strategic communication and cooperation among development partners will improve the general understanding of the situation of a certain SAI and may imply that waiting on the SAI’s own achieved progresses is the best effort a donor can make to support it on the long term.
Imagine an SAI where development partners have been present for over 13 years. The long-term presence of these institutions, together with development banks and regional government bodies, have been providing the SAI with short and long-term expertise in financial, compliance, quality and leadership audits. When a new development partner is called into action by its government to exercise a positive influence on the aforementioned SAI, a new auditor is sent to assess the situation – which is reported to be paralyzed.
The auditor reports several changes on the SAI Board and observes that very little progress has been made. Even a new law which should make the Court of Auditors more professional and less susceptible to nepotism is still on hold and will probably stay that way. The auditor verifies that, despite some level of willingness within the new board, “it remains unknown how the current politicized environment will allow for any change”.
The auditor decides to formally consult with other organizations working on the field to see what their impressions are. He/she contacts other SAIs, development partners and regional bodies, as well as verifies that long term consultants are already on the ground dealing respectively with Financial Audit, Compliance Audit, Quality Management and Stakeholder Communications.
Also, another set of developers have provided guidance to the studied SAI on constitutional reform and IT structure Review. In addition, other peer-SAIs seem to be contributing with broader Management and Guidance Drafting issues. As a matter of fact, this cooperation between development partners through open and transparent discussions shows to be quintessential to the new auditor, who describes: “despite multiple efforts, the studied SAI seems to remain basically non-technical, insufficient, and highly politicized, to the disadvantage of some willing, but ever rotating staff”.
Indeed, the impression acquired by both new auditor and the ones already on the ground is that only small and punctual steps towards progress have been made. Almost no progress in the direction of a more sustainable professionalization status reflected in a better HR structure or greater independence of the SAI set by INTOSAI standards and criteria.
It remained an unknown factor the reason why the content, duration and results of such efforts in the form of final/intermediary reports could not be delivered to the new auditor by the analyzed SAI. This should be the starting point of every planned activity a new development partner would intend to perform and the delivery of such relevant reports should be in the best interest of the SAI to be supported.
Additionally, trying to identify further needs, and in order to understand the environment in which SAI operates, external parties working on the field of anti-corruption were also consulted by the new auditor. Interviewees reported that many of the SAI activities were allegedly being driven by politics (investigation being potentially instrumental to that) and that the conjoint staff-board were still not aware of its main mandate, which seems blurred through the lack of independency and by the still pending constitutional reform long pursued by regional delegation’s efforts.
Also, apparently small issues reveal to be bigger when discussed among peers: partners which were already involved reported unnecessary travel abundancy of the studied SAI’s board and members, who “have had for years, and have still, enough possibilities to travel and interact with peers and still did not show minimum efforts or progresses around legal development and process structuration towards accountability”. They travelled so much (without giving the expected counterpart in terms of progresses), said some partners, that a passport control started to be made by some of the interviewed organizations. Also, the general lack of proficiency in English (again, after many years of international projects being developed) is another factor which made international involvement senseless at this point, according to the new auditor’s conclusions.
It’s clear to see that, if the new auditor had not consulted his/her partners and relevant websites, he/she could have concluded that the SAI deserved support. And exactly the contrary of that was the auditor’s conclusion: at this point of time, the studied SAI had received enough help over the years, and at the moment was not in need of another partner to help it procrastinate long due-efforts.
In fact, the cooperation and coordination among partners brings not only the transparency needed among different institutions aiming at working more ethically with each other: an open discussion helps also to help the SAI that is the center of support. The profusion of development partners in a certain region must be therefore well understood and coordinated so that work to be done by a new development partner does not overlapp, especially when basic progresses are still to be seen. A new development partner must additionally consider projects that have already been finished (or under development) by other partners in order to identify SAI needs and potentials to be fulfilled. For example, looking to the newly relaunched SAI Capacity development database within the INTOSAI-Donor Cooperation Portal which contains details about development programmes and the presence of cooperating partners in a certain country.
Closing the case, the new auditor has concluded that, “at this time, there is no opportunity for relevant and reasonably ambitious projects within the studied SAI, as on the middle/ long term it does not seem to be capable of making relevant progresses – which are the natural required exchange for international donations and support – despite several ongoing international interventions”.
Causes for this assumption were not only the political and cultural context encountered, but mainly the lack of independence and the incipient professional and technological structure offered by the analyzed SAI over the years after having being successively submitted to a list of capacity development projects. On top of that, concluded the auditor, the option of offering only computers and technological tools for analysis should not be done without safeguarding the appropriate compliance structure and the right amount of promises towards a significant improvement.
In conclusion, whatever the intended effort by a new development partner, for the sake of organizational transparency and ethics a coordination of partners must be necessarily done and prioritized. This is not only useful for all involved cooperation bodies, but also and especially relevant to the analyzed SAI.