I feel privileged and very honored to have been asked to write this editorial on the eve of my retirement. Retirement is a step I take with mixed emotions. Since 1990, I have served as Auditor General of Norway; I have also been a member of the INTOSAI Governing Board and Chairman of the Board of the INTOSAI Development Initiative (IDI). Serving in these roles has been very rewarding, both personally and professionally. I would, therefore, like to share with you some of the highlights from my experience as part of the INTOSAI community and my perspectives about the future of the organization.
It gives me great pleasure to reflect on how INTOSAI has evolved during the last 15 years. I have witnessed its growth from what was primarily a network for sharing experiences into a stronger and more dynamic organization. While this development has not been automatic and has required great effort on the part of many colleagues, it has consistently moved the organization in the right direction.
I remember attending my first INCOSAI in Washington in 1992— an experience that certainly made an impression on me! Three new committees—on environmental auditing, privatization, and program evaluation—were established, and the Governing Board was enlarged to make it more representative of various auditing systems and of INTOSAI’s seven regional working groups. This was a big step toward focusing INTOSAI’s efforts and incorporating the wide range of diversity found in the organization for the common good.
At the XV INCOSAI in Cairo in 1995, environmental audit emerged for the first time as a major congress theme, thus providing an overall framework for this work and incorporating sustainable development into the governmental policies and programs subject to audit. Today, environmental audit is carried out in many SAIs, and sustainable development is on the agenda of many international organizations.
At the XVI INCOSAI in Montevideo in 1998, one of the themes was the SAI’s role in the prevention and detection of fraud and corruption—a theme that is unfortunately more relevant today than ever, bearing in mind that corruption is the single largest obstacle to development. SAIs need to play a key role in this important area.
The 2001 INCOSAI in Seoul marked an important development for IDI as INTOSAI revised its statutes to ensure that the SAI hosting IDI would have a permanent seat on the INTOSAI Governing Board. This was the first step in formally integrating IDI into INTOSAI. Another important milestone reached in Seoul was establishing a task force to develop a strategic planning framework for INTOSAI to guide it into the 21st century.
At the 2004 Budapest congress, INTOSAI’s first strategic plan was adopted, and thus began a new era in INTOSAI’s development. The strategic plan is an important vehicle for achieving INTOSAI’s goals—it provides the organization a strategic focus shared by 186 SAIs. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to take part in the task force as it drew up the plan. It was an inspiring and rewarding task, and I strongly believe that the plan points the organization in the right direction. INTOSAI has already taken important steps in implementing the plan and should now use it to bring additional vitality to the organization. Guided by a spirit of consensus and united by a common purpose, INTOSAI members must now mobilize the will and the resources to continue this implementation.
It is my firm opinion, however, that INTOSAI must set far-reaching goals and have high ambitions if it is to be an efficient and high-quality model international organization. I would like to make two key points in this regard.
First, in order to operate as a model international institution, INTOSAI has to strengthen its coordination and support capabilities. Priority should be given to developing an international secretariat for INTOSAI that would (1) take charge of implementing and marketing the standards, guidelines, and best practices developed by INTOSAI committees and working groups; (2) assist committees and working groups in translating working products; (3) have sufficient research and evaluation capacity; and, last but not least, (4) incorporate the training activities that IDI presently carries out. Establishing such a secretariat presupposes financial funding for INTOSAI that is more sustainable and independent of the financial goodwill of a few member SAIs, as is the situation today.
Second, INTOSAI’s statutes state that INTOSAI shall maintain its present links with the United Nations (UN). I think it is important that INTOSAI go further and aim to be more closely connected to the UN, either by becoming a UN institution or by having strong formal ties with the UN. This would place INTOSAI in a framework that consolidates its goals, secures a financially sound basis for its work, and gives it the recognition and the legitimacy needed to facilitate closer cooperation with international donors such as the World Bank.
The SAI of Norway has had the opportunity and privilege of hosting IDI since 2001. One of my driving motivations as chairman of the IDI Board has been the vision of shared responsibility—helping SAIs to help themselves. In the years to come, INTOSAI must focus on investing in knowledge so that opportunities become available to everyone, not just a few. Bridging the gaps between nations is our common responsibility and a task to which I urge SAIs to attach even greater importance in the future. Finally, let me share a personal reflection. Achieving cooperation between sovereign nations is a demanding task. INTOSAI gives us the opportunity to interact with colleagues from around the world, and it gives auditors a broader understanding of the international context of governmental auditing. My experience in working with INTOSAI illustrates the importance of personal relations in international cooperation. A wide variety of benefits flows from the trust, reciprocity, information sharing, and cooperation that accompany social networks and help to lay the groundwork for establishing mutually beneficial relations at both the personal and institutional levels.
It has been a privilege to work together with so many colleagues in INTOSAI, to get to know many of you personally, and even to develop friendships. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the INTOSAI members for their cooperation and goodwill throughout the years, and I wish INTOSAI and all member SAIs much success in their important work in the future.