Technical Articles

EUROSAI Holds VII Triennial Congress in Poland

The VII triennial congress of the European Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions (EUROSAI) was held in Krakow, Poland, June 2–6, 2008. Jacek Jezierski, the President of Poland’s Supreme Chamber of Control (NIK), and his staff welcomed 195 delegates representing 48 SAIs. Observers from INTOSAI regional groups (AFROSAI, ARABOSAI, ASOSAI, and OLACEFS) and the INTOSAI Development Initiative also attended the conference, along with observers from several international organizations and this Journal.

Participants in the VII EUROSAI congress in Krakow
Participants in the VII EUROSAI congress in Krakow.

The opening ceremony was held at Jagiellonian University, located in Krakow’s Old Town. Dr. Dieter Engels, President of Germany’s Federal Court of Audit and outgoing EUROSAI President, officially opened the congress with a warm welcome to the delegates. Dr. Engels highlighted the successful role EUROSAI has played in fostering international cooperation and strengthening SAIs across Europe. He noted that EUROSAI now includes 48 members, with the SAI of Israel joining since the last congress. He summarized 3 years of successful work by the EUROSAI working groups on information technology, environmental audit, and coordinated audit tax subsidies; the benchmarking costs/performance tax administration study group; and the EUROSAI Training Committee. He also noted EUROSAI’s global outreach and cooperation with related organizations such as OLACEFS.

Dr. Engels then turned over the EUROSAI presidency to Mr. Jezierski, who praised Dr. Engels’ leadership and pledged to build on EUROSAI’s successes. He said he welcomed the challenge of serving as EUROSAI president and noted the important role of international cooperation in an increasingly integrated Europe and globally interdependent world. Mr. Jezierski introduced the three congress themes and thanked all the theme chairs for their hard work in preparing for the congress.

Eurosai Chairmen
Dr. Engels of Germany (left) and Mr. Jezierski of Poland (right)- the outgoing and incoming EUROSAI presidents. respectively - at one of the plenary sessions during the congress.

Mr. Jezierski introduced the President of Poland, Lech Kaczynski, who welcomed the participants to Krakow and spoke of the important role that SAIs play in protecting the public and improving government management and performance. President Kaczynski was well qualified to discuss the role of the SAIs, having served as NIK President from 1992 through 1995. He noted how invaluable that experience has been in his current role. Following the President’s remarks, representatives from Poland’s postal service unveiled a special commemorative stamp with the congress logo that had been issued in honor of the congress and NIK’s leadership of EUROSAI. Each participant received one of the commemorative stamps.

For the sake of the environment, the congress hosts had decided to make this event as paperless as possible. Official congress papers were made available via the Internet before the conference on a special congress Web site. During the congress, every participant was provided with a laptop preloaded with all relevant congress materials. At the end of the congress, participants received portable USB drives containing all the documents to take home with them.

Delegates made ample use of the laptops provided to them for this first paperless EUROSAI congress.
Delegates made ample use of the laptops provided to them for this first paperless EUROSAI congress.

Theme Presentations, Conclusions, and Recommendations

The congress focused on three key themes: establishing an audit quality management system within an SAI, auditing social programs in the field of education, and auditing social programs for the professional integration of people with disabilities. For each theme, the chairs and assisting SAIs prepared a principal paper giving an overview of the theory and practice related to the topic and posing certain questions. EUROSAI members were invited to respond to or comment on the points raised by the papers in written country papers based on their national perspectives and experiences. The country papers provided an important and wide-ranging source of information and experience from which the theme chairs and assisting SAIs prepared discussion papers for each theme.

The first theme focuses on the challenge SAIs face in ensuring that their work meets the high quality standards that stakeholders expect. The second and third themes deal with key social policy areas where SAIs can and do make an impact and, based on a discussion of experiences and existing approaches, seek to highlight areas for SAIs to consider in their future national work.

During the congress, EUROSAI members discussed the analyses and key observations in the excellent discussion papers, as well as additional information, including presentations covering technical audit case studies from SAIs and alternative perspectives from external stakeholders. On this basis, the congress reached conclusions and developed recommendations related to each theme.

Theme 1: Establishing an Audit Quality Management System
within an SAI

This theme was led by the SAI of Hungary with support from the SAIs of Denmark, Malta, Poland, and the Russian Federation and the European Court of Auditors. All participating EUROSAI members expressed their concern about audit quality issues and their desire to further strengthen audit quality management in their organizations. They recognized that leadership is an essential element in an effective quality management system and that effective communication at all levels is vital to directing the SAI’s mission and goals, improving trust across the organization, and promoting professional knowledge.

Most SAIs have a strategic plan to ensure that they respond to changes in the audit environment and meet stakeholders’ expectations. Most carry out a comprehensive risk assessment as part of the strategic planning process and periodically monitor and review their progress through annual audit plans and, in some SAIs, performance indicators.

SAIs also highlighted effective human resource management as key to ensuring audit quality. The majority of SAIs consider comprehensive human resource planning and monitoring as essential to ensuring that staff are not only used efficiently and effectively, but also more satisfied and better trained. SAIs indicated that they either have or are developing human resource policies and systems, including specific plans and procedures for staff recruitment and hiring, staff development, performance assessment, and promotions. They also emphasized the importance of the fair application of well-documented human resource policies and procedures and the transparent treatment of staff. At the audit team level, SAIs consider continuous supervision and monitoring by management as key quality control measures and have developed audit methodology documents to support auditors in carrying out high-quality audits.

SAIs recognized the importance of key external parties—such as parliaments, the audited organizations, the media, the public, and professional organizations—to independently gauge audit quality. SAIs have various measures in place to monitor the outcomes of their audit activities and obtain external feedback. For example, most SAIs track the degree to which audit recommendations are implemented. Most SAIs seek to continuously develop and improve audit quality management systems by carrying out internal or external post-audit quality reviews. Some SAIs also carry out self-assessments.

Based on these conclusions, the congress made the following recommendations:

  • SAIs are encouraged to further promote leadership through the organization’s mission and vision statements, value framework, code of conduct, and strategic and operational plans. SAIs may also wish to consider the development of performance indicators.
  • SAIs should consider establishing an objective to assess and continuously improve their audit quality management systems.
  • SAIs are encouraged to take further efforts to support their staff to achieve high quality standards.
  • SAIs should consider strengthening relations with key stakeholders, including the Parliament and its committees, audited organizations, the media, the general public, and professional organizations.
  • SAIs may wish to make use of reviews conducted by external experts, including peer reviews. SAIs may also consider establishing an independent organizational unit dedicated to quality issues.

The congress also supported the development of a good practices guide for audit quality, which is to be drafted in 2009.

The Congress featured wide-ranging discussions of its three themes.
The Congress featured wide-ranging discussions of its three themes.

Theme 2: Auditing Social Programs in Education

The theme was led by the SAI of Portugal, with support from the SAIs of Estonia, France, Poland, Sweden, and the Ukraine. Most of the 109 education audits carried out by EUROSAI SAIs from 2004 through 2006 focused on financial procedures and reviews of policy implementation, with a focus on higher education. SAI recommendations based on these audits were directed towards changing rules and regulations as well as disseminating good practices. SAIs plan to continue work on education issues, with 93 audits planned for 2007 through 2009.

The congress recommended that education audits take the relative size of public expenditures into consideration in selecting audit topics. Based on a survey of SAIs conducted for the congress, several topics emerged as important areas of focus:

  • barriers to accessing high-quality kindergarten education, such as the location of providers, parents’ ability to pay, and the quality of services;
  • the quality and effectiveness of K–12 education in raising educational achievement and reducing the dropout rates of students aged 15–18;
  • the quality of vocational education programs and the extent to which these programs meet labor market needs and higher education demands;
  • education initiatives designed for specific subpopulations, especially people with disabilities, the unemployed, and the imprisoned; and
  • the quality of university-level education, including management and financial aid.

The congress also recommended that SAIs consider audits at both the regional and national levels and suggested that joint or parallel audits involving several SAIs would be beneficial. The congress recommendations highlighted risk areas to consider when selecting audit topics, possible audit methods, and reporting and post-audit monitoring strategies. For example, the audit methods recommendations noted that SAIs should develop measurable and comparable performance indicators in evaluating effectiveness. The recommendations also noted that establishing a systematic post-audit monitoring process should lead to the implementation of a greater percentage of recommendations.

Theme 3: Auditing Social Programs for the Professional Integration of People with Disabilities

This theme was led by the SAI of the United Kingdom with support from the SAIs of Estonia, Iceland, Poland, Sweden, and Switzerland. The congress made a series of recommendations for this theme based on highly informative papers and presentations. The issues discussed and the recommendations are summarized in the article “Auditing Social Programs for the Professional Integration of the People with Disabilities” on pp. 13–17 of this issue of the Journal.

EUROSAI Working Groups

Representatives from the EUROSAI Training Committee (which is cochaired by France and Spain) reported on the committee’s activities over the past 3 years and summarized its training strategy. The congress approved the reports and adopted a common training strategy for 2008 through 2011.

The congress also approved the reports and resolutions presented by the EUROSAI Working Group on Environmental Auditing (chaired by Poland), the IT Working Group (chaired by the Netherlands), the Working Group on the Coordinated Audit of Tax Subsidies (chaired by Germany), and the Study Group on Benchmarking Cost and Performance of Tax Administration (chaired by the United Kingdom).

The congress adopted the Ukrainian SAI’s proposal to set up an independent EUROSAI working group, the Subgroup on Audit of Natural, Man-Caused Disasters: Consequences and Radioactive Wastes Elimination. The proposal was presented by representatives from Spain and the Ukraine.

Other Business

The Congress adopted the dates for conferences with their counterpart organizations—the VI EUROSAI-OLACEFS conference will take place in Venezuela in 2009, and the EUROSAI-ARABOSAI conference will be held in France in 2009.

Representatives from the INTOSAI Development Initiative (IDI), chaired by Norway, discussed cooperative activities in the region. In the past year, IDI has made a strategic shift from classroom training to a broader focus on training for impact. The IDI strategy involves strengthening SAIs as institutions as well as enhancing the professional development of SAI staff.

The congress unanimously accepted the offer of Portugal’s SAI to host the VIII EUROSAI congress in Lisbon in 2010. The delegates enjoyed a video presentation on that beautiful country and, during the closing ceremony, were treated to a recital by Polish pianist Joachim Mencel, who played pieces by Chopin as well as his own compositions.

For additional information, see the special congress Web site: www.eurosai2008.pl.