Cover Story


International Journal of Government Auditing – January 2015

Photo of Josef Moser President, Austrian Court of Audit and Secretary General, INTOSAI
by Dr. Josef Moser
President, Austrian Court of Audit and Secretary General, INTOSAI

The importance of SAI independence for sustainable development

The last Congress of INTOSAI in Beijing in October 2013 called especially for the implementation of the UN Resolution A/66/209 on independence, in particular because SAIs can accomplish their tasks objectively only if they are independent of the audited entity and protected against outside influence. It further emphasizes that SAIs have an important role in promoting efficiency, accountability, and effectiveness, and that they are conducive to the achievement of development objectives, including the Millennium Development Goals.

In relation to the sustainability of finance policies, the Beijing Declaration explicitly underlined the importance of strengthening the independence of SAIs, and acknowledged that the mandates of SAIs may need to be enhanced for audits related to the sustain-ability of public finances.

Therefore both the international community of SAIs, as well as the international community of states, call for action in order to be prepared for the challenges related to sustainable development.

SAIs all around the world currently face a series of challenges related to sustainable development, such as:

  • the lack of transparency and accountability, which causes a tremendous damage to states, endangers social peace, and undermines the efficiency of development aid ;
  • the lack of legal, financial, and organizational independence of SAIs from government, including obstacles to define the audit program independently;
  • the lack of a comprehensive audit mandate of SAIs;
  • the lack of possibilities for SAIs to provide a formal, comprehensive audit opinion on government accounts to Parliament;
  • and
  • the lack of legal powers of SAIs to hold government to account.

Necessary measures to ensure sustainable development

Sustainable development worldwide is only possible if the use of public resources is made more transparent and accountable, in order to enhance the responsibility of action to give the future a chance, because the actions of today must not narrow and endanger the scope for future generations.

Increased transparency and accountability is also essential in order to strengthen the trust of citizens in all state institutions. It therefore has to be the common goal of the SAI community to create transparency, enhance accountability, fight corruption, and Necessary measures to ensure sustainable development Sustainable development worldwide is only possible if the use of public resources is made more transparent and accountable, in order to enhance the responsibility of action to give the future a chance, because the actions of today must not narrow and endanger the scope for future generations. Increased transparency and accountability is also essential in order to strengthen the trust of citizens in all state institutions. It therefore has to be the common goal of the SAI community to create transparency, enhance accountability, fight corruption, and thus to contribute to sustainable development.

’It is now that all responsible representatives of SAIs have to take action to raise awareness of relevant stakeholders—national and international—in order to successfully finalize our efforts to include the independence of Supreme Audit Institutions, related capacity building, and the improvement of accounting systems as essential elements of the Post-2015 Development Agenda.”

— Josef Moser

Against this background, INTOSAI developed a position for the Post-2015 Development Agenda, calling for the inclusion of independence, capacity building, and the improvement of accounting systems as necessary elements in the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

INTOSAI’s efforts in the context of the post-2015 Development Agenda

At the global level, INTOSAI is currently heavily involved in the elaboration process of the Post2015 Development Agenda, which is defining the future Sustainable Development Goals.

The Austrian Court of Audit in its capacity as the General Secretariat of INTOSAI has seized every opportunity in order to anchor the mentioned objectives of INTOSAI—independence of SAIs, related capacity building, and the improvement of accounting systems—as central elements of the Post-2015 Development Agenda in numerous UN forums, like the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the UN Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing, or the UN Committee of Experts on Public Administration (CEPA) and the Interparliamentary Union (IPU).

Achievements

The results of these intensive efforts have been very gratifying:

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon explicitly welcomed this initiative of INTOSAI and underlined the importance of transparency and accountability on the occasion of a working meeting before the last INCOSAI in Beijing.

UN Under-Secretary-General Wu Hongbo specifically mentioned accountability and monitoring mechanisms as a prerequisite for the Post-2015 Development Agenda and underlined that strong and independent institutions as well as capacity building of SAIs are key preconditions.

ECOSOC President Martin Sajdik also explicitly referred to “a robust accountability framework” as a key element for the success of the Post-2015 Development Agenda and to the important role of SAIs in this regard.

In its draft resolution to the ECOSOC, the UN Committee of Experts on Public Administration (CEPA) expressly called upon UN Member States Declarations as well as the UN General Assembly Resolution A/66/209, and for acknowledging the importance of strengthening national accountability through SAIs as well as the capacity of national SAIs as essential elements of the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

In detail, the text resolution on the Post-2015 Development Agenda agreed on by ECOSOC in July 2014 includes the following paragraph on SAIs: The ECOSOC “Acknowledges the indispensable role of supreme audit institutions and related capacity-building in holding Governments accountable for the use of resources and their performance in achieving development goals, and calls on Member States to give due consideration to the importance of the independence of supreme audit institutions in the elaboration of the post-2015 development agenda.”

As a direct result of our efforts, ECOSOC placed special emphasis on the role of SAIs and their capacity building in its resolution and called upon the member states to give due consideration to the issue of independence of SAIs in the Post-2015 Development Agenda. Additionally, the ECOSOC Ministerial Declaration also contains an explicit commitment to the importance of good governance, rule of law, transparency, and accountability at all levels.

Moreover, on the occasion of this years’ ECOSOC Ministerial Meeting, high-ranking UN representatives expressly endorsed the call for independence and capacity building and the improvement of the accounting system. In their concluding and summarizing remarks, UN Under-Secretary- General Wu Hongbo and ECOSOC President Martin Sajdik emphasized the necessity of improving the accountability mechanisms and the related need for capacity building. The discussions and concluding comments of UN Under-Secretary-General Wu Hongbo and ECOSOC President Martin Sajdik prove that the position of INTOSAI is being effectively included in the elaboration process of the Sustainable Development Goals and that it will also influence further discussions on accountability systems.

This constituted a further important step towards strengthening SAIs in the framework of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Another very recent major activity of the whole INTOSAI community is the negotiation of a UN General Assembly Resolution calling for including independence and capacity building for SAIs, and improvement of public accounting systems in the Post 2015-Development Agenda. The current process is very promising and the INTOSAI General Secretariat constantly keeps the whole INTOSAI community informed about the progress of the negotiations within the UN framework.

The way forward

All the efforts mentioned above illustrate the successful commitment of the General Secretariat and the whole INTOSAI community on the way to achieve our common INTOSAI goal of strengthening the role of SAIs in the framework of the UN Post-2015 Development Agenda.

As the topic of sustainable development is of utmost importance in this context, it is certainly appropriate to ensure that sustainability is also a core element of the new Strategic Plan of INTOSAI, and that the future activities of INTOSAI for the period 2017-22—the development of guidelines, capacity building and the exchange of knowledge in general—are strategically geared toward this issue.

In this way, INTOSAI implements the UN Resolution A/66/209 and strengthens the core element of the Post-2015 Development Agenda: accountability. In line with this, SAIs are invited to actively contribute to the current revision of the new Strategic Plan for the period 2017-22.

The 23rd UN/INTOSAI Symposium in 2015 will deal with the topic “The UN Post-2015 Development Agenda – Prerequisites and Possibilities for SAIs to safeguard sustainable development” as well. The results of this Symposium will also feed into the further negotiations on the future Sustainable Development Goals, which are to be adopted in late 2015.

Therefore, it is now that all responsible representatives of SAIs have to take action to raise awareness of relevant stakeholders—national and international—in order to successfully finalize our efforts to include the independence of Supreme Audit Institutions, related capacity building, and the improvement of accounting systems as essential elements of the Post-2015 Development Agenda, which will essentially contribute to the strengthening of sustainable development.