Technical Articles

International Journal of Auditing – April 2004

Working Together to Tackle Regional Problems: When Two SAIs (or More) Are Better Than One

Poland’s Supreme Chamber of Control (SCC) has been dealing with environmental auditing problems for over 35 years. Initially, the SCC limited itself to studying specific problems, such as compliance with requirements related to the water supply or the implementation of government policies on environmental issues. As the ecological awareness of the community grew and more extensive legal regulations in the field of environmental protection came into existence, the SCC adjusted its audit programs to new public and legal requirements and international obligations. In accordance with legal regulations, the SCC audits central and local government implementation of environmental protection commitments. SCC studies have included the effectiveness of environmental fees and penalties for exceeding permissible pollution levels, state policy development in the area of environmental protection and its implementation, and the efficient use of financial resources.

In recognition of Poland’s experience in environmental auditing, the SCC was appointed in 1999 to be the coordinator of the EUROSAI Working Group on Environmental Auditing (WGEA), which was established by resolution of the 4th EUROSAI Congress held in Paris in May 1999. The SCC’s basic responsibilities include taking the initiative to involve new European SAIs in international or regional environmental audits; disseminating standards, methods, and techniques for environmental auditing by organizing workshops, seminars, and training courses; and promoting the actions of the working group via the Internet. At present, the EUROSAI WGEA comprises 33 European countries and is considered the most active of all the INTOSAI regional working groups in this area.

In addition to bilateral cooperation with Central and Eastern European countries, the SCC has in recent years carried out joint parallel audits, including some with neighboring countries. According to the INTOSAI WGEA booklet on how SAIs can cooperate in the audit of international environmental accords, a joint parallel audit is conducted by a team of auditors from two or more SAIs who prepare a single, joint audit report for publication in all participating countries.

Photograph of the Puszcza Bialowieska forest
Source: Mariusz Brudek.
The Puszcza Bialowieska forest, located in both Belarus and Poland, was the subject of a joint parallel audit of environmental protection regulations by the SAIs of both countries The SCC’s history of joint parallel audits dates back to the last decade.

The SCC’s history of joint parallel audits dates back to the last decade.

  • In 1995, the SCC and the SAI of Belarus studied protection of the Puszcza Bialowieska primeval forest, a dense, undisturbed woodland complex that is located in both countries. The audit findings pointed out irregularities in both countries’ existing regulations to protect the forest and the need for close cooperation between the two forest administrations.
  • In 1996, the SCC conducted two parallel audits with the SAIs of the Czech Republic, Lithuania, and Belarus on tasks international treaties imposed on cooperation regarding border waters. As a result of the audits, the plans for cooperation on border waters were approved by all parties and implemented to a limited extent.
  • Poland, the Czech Republic, and Lithuania conducted an audit of atmospheric air protection in 1999, as did Germany in the following year. The audit findings pointed out that in order to protect against air pollution, it was necessary to consider closer cooperation among neighboring countries and unification of standards for air emission and fuel quality.

The widening scope of international cooperation between SAIs in the environmental auditing field sometimes results in difficulties because of different SAI mandates and inequality in their scope. The general rule of international cooperation should be the search for areas in which there are common authorities, not differences.

Poland’s SCC coordinated the Helsinki Convention audit that was carried out in 2001 by the SAIs of the countries wete convention signatories: Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Russian Federation, and Sweden. The objective of the audit was to ssess the implementation of Helsinki Convention provisions related to the protection of the Baltic Sea against pollution originating on land. The cooperating parties conducted the audits according to their authorities and developed the Common Position on Cooperation and Program Assumptions of the Audit Program as the basis for their cooperation. Each SAI was responsible for its own audit and for the way its results were presented in the general section of the report. The summaries of national reports served as a basis for preparing a joint final report.

Photo of the SCC
Source note: Source: Malgorzata Romanowicz, SCC.
The SCC coordinated the audit reviewing protection of the Baltic Sea from pollution originating on land.

Studying the implementation of the provisions in conventions and international agreements is a very important tool in conducting international audits. It allows SAIs to examine the same issue in one environmental area in accordance with their authorities and abilities and, in the case of joint coordinated audits, at the same time. The Common Position on Cooperation and the Assumptions of the Audit Program enables SAIs to adjust audit objectives to their mandates and to compare audit findings in joint audit reports.

The activities of the EUROSAI WGEA routinely include carrying out international or regional environmental audits focused primarily on the fulfillment and efficiency of environmental treaty commitments. This work is exemplified by the second Helsinki Convention audit, which the National Audit Office of Denmark has coordinated and eight Baltic States have expressed their willingness to participate in. The audit subjects include issues related to pollution caused by ships. Auditing the implementation of conventions and the provisions of international agreements reflects a shared interest in preventing pollution and protecting the environment and may also lead to the establishment of new environmental legislation or the improvement of existing laws.

Taking the initiative to conduct international audits allows SAIs to accomplish intended audit aims and offers opportunities for benchmarking. The SCC’s experience clearly shows that international audits offer the only way to obtain comprehensive data on issues related to environmental auditing and broader knowledge about activities performed by SAIs in this area. The SCC has shared the experience gained from environmental audits with other SAIs in order to explore the possibilities for joint initiatives in environmental auditing. The SCC has learned that international audits help to develop competencies and ways that SAIs can share methodologies and audit approaches. They also provide incentives for SAIs to carry out audits of international accords and to work closely with other SAIs.

The SCC’s vision is to promote the highest standards in environmental auditing, the proper conduct of environmental issues, and beneficial change in the provision of national public services related to this area. Such cooperation builds a cooperative spirit among SAIs, integrity, open communication, and professional excellence.