International Journal of Government Auditing – April 2014
Engaging Civil Service Organizations in SAI Audit
Public sector auditing, as championed by the Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs),
enhances people's lives. The preamble of ISSAI 12:The Value and Benefits of Supreme
Audit Institutions – making a difference to the lives of citizens states that once an SAIs'
audit results have been made public, citizens are able to hold the custodians of public
The 21st UN/INTOSAI Symposium (2011) on "Effective Practices of Cooperation
between Supreme Audit Institutions and Citizens to Enhance Public Accountability"
emphasizes the importance of effective cooperation between SAIs and citizens to
safeguard and enhance transparency, accountability, and good governance within
government. The Symposium further confirmed that effective cooperation is only
possible through effective communication. In terms of enhancing transparency in the
public accountability process, citizens have been recognized as natural partners of SAIs.
As end users of government activities and services, citizens are a rich source of
knowledge and information about government performance and operations. Therefore,
a continuous dialogue with citizens raises citizens' awareness of the work of SAIs and
strengthens public confidence in public administration. Greater citizen participation—
which can be encouraged by developing mechanisms to receive and monitor
complaints for noncompliance and maladministration, and suggestions for improved
public administration and services—provides information for future audit focus areas
and for scope and risks to be considered.
The 22nd UN/INTOSAI Symposium (2013) on "Audit and Advisory by SAIs: Risks
and Opportunities, as well as Possibilities for Engaging Citizens" recalls UN Resolution
A/66/209 "Promoting the efficiency, accountability, effectiveness and transparency of
public administration by strengthening Supreme Audit Institutions." This resolution
states that citizens and civil society are equally important as addressees of audit reports
and recommendations and competent political bodies, and they contribute to effective
control through a public debate. The Symposium emphasizes the importance for SAIs
to communicate, and thereby promote awareness by the citizens and the media about
SAIs' findings and recommendations.
As representatives of citizens as service users and consumers, Civil Society
Organizations (CSOs) can build citizen literacy on public accountability. CSOs have
the networks and expertise to detect potential cases of corruption and to report these
to SAIs. CSOs, together with legislatures and parliaments, can monitor and build
pressure on the executive to implement audit recommendations.
To take advantage of CSO's networks and expertise, SAIs should create
communication channels with CSOs. CSOs can then use these channels to give
SAIs information that can help in planning an audit. SAIs should also provide CSOs with access to audit reports to create pressure for executives to implement audit
recommendations. To facilitate the creation of a cadre of activist citizens, SAIs should
develop accessible and understandable reports that are freely available and widely
distributed to the public in a timely manner.
Modalities to engage citizen participation in public audits: Examples
of best practices
- Social audits and public hearing forums – This model is used in India by the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), an organization for peasants and
workers. MKSS carries out social audit and organizes public hearings of local
government expenditures in village communities. Civil groups have rolled out this
model throughout India. Under this method, local communities check accounting
records and other records on public works programs executed in their areas and
identify instances of fraudulent documentation, including accounts purporting
to record the construction of works that have not been created ("ghost works"),
fraudulent billing for project activities, and falsified labor rolls.
- Working closely with the legislature – In South Africa this model is used by
the Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM), a research and advocacy
organization, to track government agency responses to instances of financial
misconduct and corruption identified in the Auditor General's reports.
- Conducting participatory audits as a joint undertaking – In the Philippines,
the government's SAI, the National Commission on Audit (COA), cooperates
with a non-governmental organization called the Concerned Citizens of Abra
for Good Government (CCAGG) to conduct participatory audits as a joint
undertaking. CCAGG monitors infrastructure projects within its province
and uses the assistance of local monitors and volunteers drawn from the area
to verify whether government projects are executed as per contract norms.
This exercise is focused on performance audits, which assess the impact of the
audited government program or project to determine whether it has achieved
its anticipated results. Audit teams include members from COA and nongovernmental
organizations. The teams receive joint training on conducting
participatory audits before conducting audits.
- Providing CSOs access to agency documents and seeking their assistance
– Officials of COA, SAI Philippines, are cooperating with a CSO called
Procurement Watch Inc. In order to test a tool that measures corruption and
inefficiency in public procurement, the COA is providing the CSO access to
procurement documents of agencies that it is auditing. Procurement Watch
Inc. specializes in building systems of transparency and accountability into
government contracting and procurement practices. This tool seeks to determine
the real (fair-market) cost of a publicly procured good or service, and then
compares that to the cost that was paid for the good or service; when actual
payments are higher than the items' fair-market value, the difference can be
attributed to corruption or inefficiency.
- Making use of COS's work in independent examinations – In Mexico, the
Ministry of Public Administration has developed a tool, SEPAT: this Spanish
acronym translates to "Transparency and Citizen Participation Evaluation
System." SEPAT monitors whether municipal agencies in the country adopt
good disclosure policies, provide citizens with access to information, and
facilitate social audits. Through this process program beneficiaries evaluate the
performance of the agency and conduct oversight of agency expenditures. Social
audits of development programs are mandated in the 2004 General Law of Social
Similarly, Fundar, a research and advocacy organization, is a CSO that obtained
hundreds of pages of accounting records from the Ministry of Health using
the national freedom of information law. Fundar subsequently identified largescale
corruption in a contract awarded to a private agency under an HIV/AIDS
prevention program in Mexico. The CSO's findings were later corroborated by an
official investigation conducted by the national supreme audit institution.
- System of citizen audit requests and complaints – In the Republic of Korea,
a system of Citizens' Audit Request was introduced under the Anti-Corruption
Act of 2001. This system allows citizens to request special audits from the Board
of Audit and Inspection (BAI), the SAI of the Republic of Korea, on public
agencies suspected of corruption or legal transgressions. Applications are made
to a Citizens' Audit Request Screening Committee comprised of citizens and
audit officials. The committee is designed to screen requests in order to identify
frivolous complaints and to decide which requests merit a full audit.
Efforts to include citizens in audits in the Republic of Korea are not limited to the
national level. Some local governments have decided to address complaints and
grievances filed by citizens by appointing Citizen Auditors. These auditors, who
are not public officials, are appointed to review petitions for a certain time period.
If necessary, the Citizen Auditors conduct audits and notify the petitioners of the
results. Under a Civil Petitions Reception System, citizens are also encouraged
to file petitions with the BAI against public agencies using a variety of media
including the Internet and a 24-hour toll-free hotline. About 8,000 reports are
filed each year. Under the Advance Notice Audit System, the BAI notifies citizens
in advance of planned audits and requests them to provide feedback to help with
- Use of an advisory committee or board comprising a wide range of dignitaries
from different sectors of society – The BAI in the Republic of Korea draws upon
the services of non-governmental experts, particularly university professors and
researchers, in its Policy Advisory Committee, which provide advice on matters
concerning the BAI's audit direction and audit-related policies.
- CSO use of civil rights – In Argentina, La Asociación Civil por la Igualdad y la
Justicia (ACIJ)—a human rights-focused organization— filed a lawsuit against
the country's congressional commission, which is responsible for reviewing reports
filed by the SAI and initiating action based on audit recommendations, to obtain
the minutes of meetings of congressional hearings. ACIJ subsequently used
these records to highlight the lack of action taken by the commission to require
corrective action in response to audit recommendations.
Collaboration between SAIs and CSOs: How?
The different degrees of collaboration between SAIs and CSOs can be made to engage
CSOs in public auditing processes. Based on the modalities previously discussed,
modalities to collaboration can be placed into three categories:
- CSOs can conduct independent audits: CSOs have developed innovative social auditing processes, such as those practiced
by MKSS in India and Fundar in Mexico, that are independent of formal
government audit processes.
- CSOs can use audit findings produced by government auditors to hold
government agencies: accountable: For example, as a strategy to publically demand action from agencies, South
Africa's PSAM publicizes findings from government audit reports in press
releases and radio talk shows. PSAM also publishes a scorecard measuring the
comparative compliance of various provincial agencies with public finance laws—
these scorecards draw in part on the findings of official audit reports. Another
example of this method is ACIJ in Argentina, which investigates the actions taken
by the legislative committee responsible for oversight of the government audit
recommendations presented to it.
- CSOs can work closely with SAI auditors: CCAGG participated as a member of
a government audit team undertaking performance audits of the public highways
agency, for example. During formal government audits of public agencies,
Procurement Watch Inc. accesses public agency documents, which are in the
possession of government auditors, to measure procurement irregularities. CCEJ
in the Republic of Korea actively uses the citizen audit request system to direct
special audits on government projects identified by the organization as suffering
from financial irregularities.
Issues and concerns about collaboration between SAIs and CSOs
SAIs should be aware that developing effective collaboration practices between SAIs
and citizens does not jeopardize their traditional roles or compromise institutional
independence. Listed below are issues regarding effective collaboration between SAIs
and CSOs; SAIs collaborating with CSOs should develop mitigating measures for
- SAIs, in general, have a mandate to report to legislators but not to the public.
Regardless of the SAI's model, SAIs are generally mandated to report to the
legislature. It is the responsibility of the legislature (and usually of its designated
legislative committee) to examine the findings in audit reports and enforce action
against the executive agencies.
- Due to mandate and other professional responsibilities such as confidentiality,
audit reports are not always released in a timely manner to the public.
- Audit reports are often written using technical jargon resulting in
misunderstandings by citizens. Clarification can require tools such as the Simple
Measure of Gobbledygook (SMOG) testing as practiced by the National Audit
Office in the United Kingdom.
- The public are not given an opportunity to offer input on the findings in
- There are numerous CSOs in every country, leading to an issue of who to include
in the audit process.
- A close political attachment of CSOs may result in a biased opinion. In some
cases this may affec the neutrality and objectivity of the SAI.
- The lack of a developed process for selecting partners from among civil society
organizations can create confusion.
- CSOs may lack the resources to participate in audits without financial
- Determinations must be made as to what is the professional responsibility of
auditors, and what is the responsibility of engaged CSOs.
Nepal's endeavors towards engaging citizens in the audit process
Since its establishment in 1959, the Office of the Auditor General of Nepal (OAGN),
Nepal's SAI, has been working for enhanced public accountability and transparency.
Nepal has always put citizens, and the general society, in focus in discharging its
constitutional mandate. However, the agenda of engaging citizens and CSOs into the
audit process has recently come into the picture in more apparent and straightforward
ways. The following developments have taken place to enable greater engagement by
citizens in public audits conducted by the OAGN:
- Formation of an Advisory Committee – At the Auditor General's chair, an
Advisory Committee of 15 members has recently been formed. The Committee
comprises wider ranges of CSOs' representatives, including retired top-class
bureaucrats, the ex-vice chair of the National Planning Commission, a veteran
journalist, an economist, management experts, and a legal expert. It is hoped that
the committee will provide new insights for the development of public sector
auditing in Nepal.
- Workshop held to identify possible opportunities for participatory audits –
In October 2013, a one-and-a-half-day workshop on exploring challenges and
opportunities for implementing various participatory audit mechanisms in Nepal
took place, with support by the World Bank, at the OAGN in Kathmandu in
October. The workshop discussed the various modalities of collaboration, and
their possible inherent risks, for participatory audits.
- Formation of Working Group – As a result of workshop held to identify
possible opportunities for participatory audits, a six-member Working Group
led by the Assistant Auditor General has been formed. This group is designed
to take the deliberations of the workshop forward a and prepare an approach
paper on engaging CSOs in the audit process in two areas: dissemination of audit
recommendations, and partnering with OAGN in carrying out performance
audits. The Working Group consists of the chair from OAGN and representatives
- Issuance of public requests – Public request notices occasionally published in
national newspapers request the public to provide information to the field audit
teams or to the OAGN through posts, fax, telephone, email, and complaint box
on any information they have on the misuse or misappropriation of any public
property, or any irregularity in spending public money.
- Notice board services – In 2012 OAGN started a notice board service to make
its activities and information transparent to its stakeholders. Such information can
be obtained by dialing a toll free telephone number.
- Provision of public hearings, public audits, and social audits in local
government bodies – There is a mandatory provision of public hearings, public
audits, and social audits as per local self-governance law. This provision requires
all local government bodies to conduct public hearings, public audits, and social
audits at specified times.
Acting in the public interest places a great responsibility on SAIs to demonstrate their
ongoing relevance to citizens. Unless SAIs add value and provide benefits to citizens,
their ongoing relevance cannot be demonstrated. Therefore, public sector auditing
championed by SAIs should always, in conducting audits, keep citizens in focus.
CSOs, as representatives of society, may play vital roles in promoting accountability
and transparency—government activities are aimed at them, and they have firsthand
information about the effects of government activities. CSOs are the natural partner of
the SAIs, as they can play a critical role in building pressure on the system to improve
overall public financial management based on the audit recommendations. In this way,
CSOs help promote accountability and transparency. Further, based on the degree of
collaboration, CSOs can provide input during the planning, execution and reporting
phase of the audit process.
"A Paradigm Shift in Auditing in Nepal," News, The World Bank, October 11, 2013
ISSAI 12: The Value and Benefits of Supreme Audit Institutions – making a difference to the lives of
Jeremy Lonsdale. "Undertaking Citizen-Focused Audit: Problems and Practices." Value for Money
Audit Development, National Audit Office, United Kingdom.
Ramkumar, Vivek and Warren Krafchik. "The Role of Civil Society Organizations in Auditing and
Public Finance Management." International Budget Project, Washington, D.C. (October 2006)
21st UN/INTOSAI Symposium on Effective practices of cooperation between Supreme Audit Institutions
and citizens to enhance public accountability, Vienna, Austria, July 13–15, 2011.
22nd UN/INTOSAI Symposium on Audit and advisory by SAIs: Risks and opportunities, as well as
possibilities for engaging citizens, Vienna, Austria, March 5-7, 2013.