International Journal of Auditing – April 2005

New Information and Communication Technologies: Challenges Facing SAIs - Faiza Kefi, First President, Court of Audit of Tunisia and Secretary General of ARABOSAI

As a result of unprecedented technological and economic progress, the world today is experiencing perhaps one of the most significant eras in human history. The accelerated development of new information and communication technologies, particularly the Internet, has generated a metamorphosis in all spheres of life, including the dissemination of knowledge, economic and financial management, commercial practices, education, and health.

These new technologies constitute a formidable tool for development, inextricably linking fundamental research and the development of applications, programs, and databases. They are creating a global interdependence that requires us to radically revisit our ways of life and the fundamentals of organizational governance. Moreover, these new
technologies provide a significant means that can be used to modernize the state and, in a wider sense, government services.

They also, however, impose constraints and pose challenges. In a world of perpetual change, we are obliged to keep pace with the frantic rhythm of development or risk being left behind and increasingly unable to catch up. The stakes are high: it is a question of avoiding the digital divide or even a digital gap.

Clearly, supreme audit institutions (SAI) are deeply concerned about the rapid pace of change. They must keep track of the trends and adapt their modes of operation accordingly. They will have to cope with successive developments in management methods, the presentation of enormous masses of information, and new technologies.

However, the results of the work at INTOSAI’s 18th congress, held in Budapest in October 2004, inspire confidence in the future of our SAIs. Indeed, the adoption of a strategic plan for 2005-2010 comes at exactly the right time and sets forth a blueprint for concerted action that is adapted to the priorities of our times. The plan aims to achieve four main goals:

  • Promote strong, independent, and multidisciplinary SAIs by (1) encouraging SAIs to lead by example and (2) contributing to the development and adoption of appropriate and effective professional standards.
  • Build the capabilities and professional capacities of SAIs through training, technical assistance, and other development activities.
  • Encourage SAI cooperation, collaboration, and continuous improvement through knowledge sharing, including providing benchmarks, conducting best practice studies, and performing research on issues of mutual interest and concern.
  • Organize and govern INTOSAI in ways that promote economical, efficient, and effective working practices, timely decision-making, and effective governance practices, while maintaining due regard for regional balance and the different models and approaches of member SAIs.

This strategic plan will help to upgrade SAI programs and it incorporates legitimate ambitions. Nevertheless, its success will depend on how strongly members contribute to INTOSAI and commit themselves to the goal of achieving these ambitions.

The new information and communication technologies provide a valuable opportunity that SAIs should grasp in order to improve themselves and to become high-performance organizations that offer the optimal auditing services that the community needs.

The Tunisian Court of Audit, as an active member of INTOSAI, has worked consistently to obtain the physical and human resources it needs to be in step with the new information and communication technologies. Like other SAIs, it has never hesitated to share its know-how with partner countries. Moreover, it has always tried to collaborate with others in its constant quest for progress and has monitored what is happening in the world in order to obtain maximum benefit.

We cannot talk of the new information and communication technologies without mentioning the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), a historic, global event first held in Geneva, Switzerland, in December 2003. Tunisia will have the honor and privilege of hosting the second WSIS from November 16-18, 2005.

Participants in the first summit concluded unanimously that access to the new information and communication technologies is a key to sustainable development (another pressing and topical theme) and that there is a flagrant imbalance in this area—91 percent of persons with access to the Internet represent only 19 percent of the world’s population.

The goal of the Tunis summit is to find practical solutions that will reduce the digital divide between countries of the North and South in order to develop a balanced information society that is accessible to everyone.

The summit will also table the issue of financing projects to reduce the digital divide. If funds are not available, the countries of the South—whose primary problems still center on accessing basic services (such as water, electricity, and health care)—face the risk of remaining permanently on the sidelines of the formidable progress that the new information and communication technologies are bringing in the form of innovation, knowledge sharing, growth, and sustainable development.

The challenge is building a collective awareness of and commitment to promoting the principles of solidarity between peoples and dialogue between civilizations, and also making the new information and communication technologies a strategic instrument for balanced development where no one is excluded.

Due to the successive changes in the environment in which they operate, our SAIs continually face new challenges. They will undoubtedly succeed in confronting the current challenges as their actions are guided by the essential values defined in INTOSAI’s strategic plan.

Every SAI must, of course, first ensure that it is structured, organized, and equipped in order to succeed in its activities. Furthermore, it must upgrade its members’ professionalism by means of internal training and internships. In addition, as members of INTOSAI, we have the obligation to consolidate our cooperation and solidarity to better share our knowledge and experiences.

In conclusion, it is clear that our assets as SAIs—our professionalism, our command of the new information and communication technologies, the pertinence of our observations and recommendations, and our capacity to convince—will enable us to achieve our long-standing mission. As partners of government managers, we have the privilege of helping to ensure good governance that addresses the needs of economy, efficiency, and effectiveness.