International Journal of Government Auditing – April 2009
INTOSAI’s Financial Audit Guidelines are about to become a reality. This set of internationally developed, comprehensive guidelines will soon be available for public sector auditors around the world to use as a reliable tool when carrying out their daily tasks.
In 2010, after 6 years of work, the Financial Audit Guidelines Subcommittee (FAS) will present the INTOSAI Financial Audit Guidelines at the XX INCOSAI in South Africa. Representatives from SAIs around the world contributed to the development of the guidelines, which promote a common framework for SAIs and will enhance the quality of audit work internationally.
The Financial Audit Guidelines consist of 40 International Standards of Supreme Audit Institutions (ISSAI), which cover relevant areas or processes included in financial audits and describe how best to apply International Standards of Auditing (ISA) in the public sector environment. The first four ISSAIs are the following:
These introductory ISSAIs will be followed by 36 ISSAIs that consist of a practice note developed by FAS and a corresponding ISA. Each ISSAI will be numbered according to a framework developed by the INTOSAI Professional Standards Committee, and the ISSAI numbers will correspond with the numbering of the ISAs. Since many SAIs have mandatory tasks that go beyond auditing financial statements for regularity and internal controls, SAIs may also need to apply the Compliance Audit Guidelines, which are being developed by the Compliance Audit Guidelines Subcommittee. Those guidelines are to be approved by the INCOSAI at the same time as the Financial Audit Guidelines.
The guidelines and practice notes will be available in Arabic, English, French, German, and Spanish for delegates to use in their respective SAIs. The guidelines will be easy to use and accessible for all.
International Involvement in the Work of the FAS
Since the project began, FAS’ work has been chaired and administered by the Swedish National Audit Office (SNAO) and has involved many financial audit experts appointed by almost 100 SAIs. The FAS secretariat comprises seven staff members from the SNAO, who have contributed on a full - or part-time basis to make the project evolve into its present form.
To reach the goal of having a comprehensive set of guidelines acceptable to SAIs around the world, many of the appointed experts have become involved in different FAS or International Auditing and Assurance Standards Board (IAASB) subgroups or task forces and have worked in a collaborative manner to share their experiences. The challenge of keeping to the main goal has been manageable because the contributing SAIs have consistently demonstrated flexibility and a willingness to add value. In addition, the significant responsibilities that dedicated members of the subcommittee have taken on have been another crucial factor in producing the high quality of the FAS work. FAS members are from Cameroon, Canada, the European Court of Auditors, Mexico, Namibia, Norway, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, the United States, and the United Kingdom. In addition, an IAASB technical staff member attends FAS meetings as an observer.
Why Use the Financial Audit Guidelines?
The Financial Audit Guidelines make the ISAs applicable to the public sector by developing relevant guidance and thoroughly analyzing ISA requirements. The guidelines can also be used as authoritative reference standards in applying fundamental INTOSAI principles. Individual SAIs can use them as a basis for developing financial audit manuals.
The main goal is to apply the Financial Audit Guidelines as the authoritative reference standards for audit work. FAS strongly encourages all SAIs to apply the ISSAIs, including the ISAs and the guidance contained in the practice notes.
The Financial Audit Guidelines enhance confidence in and the credibility of our financial audit work. The ISAs have been recognized globally as the standards for financial audits. In some private sector environments, laws will require the use of ISAs, which are becoming more accepted internationally. By applying the ISAs together with the practice note, public sector auditors around the world will have the same professional standards, which will not only add to their credibility and professionalism, but also provide a basis for cooperation among SAIs and auditors in different environments.
How to Implement the Guidelines
As with all INTOSAI standards and guidelines, the Financial Audit Guidelines are not mandatory for members of INTOSAI. However, the advantages of adopting them are obvious. Sharing the same standards and guidelines will make it possible to have regional education or training activities together with other SAIs. It will be easier to share experiences between SAIs, and there will be greater understanding on the part of all concerned.
FAS recognizes that implementing the Financial Audit Guidelines is an enormous and challenging task, which should not be taken lightly. To assist in the proper application of the guidelines, a significant amount of education and training will be required and internal manuals will need to be developed. In some SAI environments, introducing this comprehensive set of standards could influence the entire way that financial audits are conducted; in others, fewer adjustments in the audit process will be needed. However, each SAI may need to analyze the need for implementation activities based on its environment and existing practices.
FAS responsibilities will not include implementation initiatives; however, after 2010, the FAS will provide introduction and training materials to support implementation.
The high quality guidance in the Financial Audit Guidelines will be relevant and useful to the majority of SAIs. Representatives of all geographical regions have given input to the development of the practice notes, and the geographical diversity in the comments on our work has been important in gaining the necessary credibility for the final product. Furthermore, using globally accepted standards will enhance confidence in and credibility of our work as auditors. Having a common framework will help ensure professionalism and make it easier to live up to the expectations of different governments and societies around the world.