The COVID-19 Pandemic is more than a health crisis; it impacts the political, social, economic, religious and financial structures of the entire world. Pandemic impacts have also prompted changes in audit practices.
The Caribbean Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions (CAROSAI) implemented a survey in May 2020 to explore COVID-19 Pandemic effects on member Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs) within the region and expose strategies and recommendations to reduce pandemic effects, enable SAIs to continue producing high-quality audits, and help enhance stakeholder engagement.
Twenty-two of CAROSAI’s 23 SAIs responded. Overall survey results revealed SAIs, much like the rest of world, have been affected in some way, and the pandemic has particularly underscored SAI concerns with Information Technology (IT), knowledge gaps and cyber threats.
As a large proportion of SAI staff are teleworking or working in shifts to maintain physical distance, some SAIs reported ceasing operations due to the lack of portable IT equipment and remote access to internal files and auditee documents.
All SAIs responding to the survey introduced measures to protect staff, including implementing guidelines promulgated by the Health Ministry; ensuring compliance with physical distancing measures; providing hand sanitizers and masks; and disseminating current health and safety information.
SAIs also indicated promoting telework, team management applications, and staggered working hours to meet mission requirements while addressing social distancing needs.
A few SAIs rapidly adopted new audit techniques to add value to the governance process. Two SAIs are undertaking real-time audits of government COVID-19 relief packages, and six SAIs are auditing stimulus package issuance. Some SAIs noted implementing efforts to raise citizen awareness by disseminating information about the pandemic and its impact.
The majority of those responding identified technology as the unexplored game changer, citing a need to better understand different technologies to enhance SAI mandate delivery.
Respondents recognized the importance of technology on audit work as a means to improve efficiency, facilitate reviews with broad audit scopes, and support working remotely and acknowledged a need for robust continuity plans to remain relevant during crises and disasters.
One response suggested that, to be more effective in a pandemic, SAIs need a working knowledge on conducting remote audits (either through real-time or historic audit techniques).
Responses also emphasized staff training on the latest auditing techniques, which would enhance SAI capacity in performing high-quality audits, improving stakeholder engagement and achieving greater audit impact.
The COVID-19 Pandemic has forced SAIs to quickly adopt a new way of interacting with each other; reassess the physical workspace concept; consider how to best respond to changes occurring in the public sector; and re-examine how work is executed on a daily basis.
SAI operations during this new norm means increased use of IT and data analytics to facilitate working remotely and real-time auditing. Additionally, governments can assist SAIs by providing requisite resources that support capacity and institutional development.