The Forum of Supreme Audit Institutions with Jurisdictional Functions: The Significance of Its Jurisdictional Role in the Public Sphere

Mauricio Torres, Comptroller General of the State of the Republic of Ecuador. Source: Ecuador State Comptroller’s Office

By: PhD. Mauricio Torres, Comptroller General of the State of the Republic of Ecuador

Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs) with jurisdictional functions from around the world make up approximately a quarter of the International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions (INTOSAI) membership. According to Pompe et. Al (2022), these SAIs not only audit, but also assume crucial roles in the adjudication and management of public funds. SAIs with jurisdictional functions have become a beacon of transparency and accountability, as they conduct reviews of accounts, and impose sanctions upon detecting poor management or financial irregularities in government administration. 

Comptroller General of the State of the Republic of Ecuador, Dr. Mauricio Torres

The Forum of Supreme Audit Institutions with Jurisdictional Functions, originated from the INTOSAI Working Group on Value and Benefits (WGVB), sought to highlight the fundamental differences of these entities. The establishment of the Forum in Paris on November 13, 2015, marked a milestone by defining the values and essential characteristics of SAIs with jurisdictional functions. Furthermore, the Paris Declaration on December 9, 2016, with the participation of forty Supreme Audit Entities, committed to promoting shared values and a joint action program to consolidate the presence of these SAIs within INTOSAI. This included incorporating their characteristics into the INTOSAI professional standards, reviewing criteria related to jurisdictional activities in the INTOSAI Performance Measurement Framework, and strengthening the independence of the SAIs’ prosecutors or judges.

In this regard, the 12 principles of INTOSAI-P-50 are fundamental pillars that establish how the national legal framework should provide SAIs with the necessary tools to carry out its jurisdictional activities, thereby ensuring their effectiveness, legality, and independence. Theses principles reinforces the value and benefit of SAIs with jurisdictional functions (Pompe et al., 2022).

For this, it is important to highlight that the pursuit of greater independence is fundamental, as it enables SAIs to function without undue influences from the state powers. This recognition is established in the Mexico Declaration, encompassing institutional, functional, and financial independence, ensuring the autonomy of SAIs in various dimensions, and is reinforced in INTOSAI-P50 by explicitly calling for the independence of judges and their decisions. Together, these foundational principles establish a solid framework that facilitates effective, fair, and independent operation, strengthening the integrity of the public sector and fostering public trust in control institutions and the justice SAIs deliver.

The Ecuadorian State Comptroller’s Office has faced significant challenges in terms of financial and administrative independence, affecting its auditing work. This has involved extensive constitutional debates and judicial litigations to promote greater separation of functions and facilitate effective oversight by the Ecuadorian control entity. These conflicts, it could be said, are intensified and made evident in a model that seeks accountability through two instances: one dedicated to audit control and the other to adjudication, where state instances use unethical practices limiting access to necessary information for an audit performance or for the indications of criminal liabilities, essential evidence for the case to be presented to the Attorneys General Office.

Therefore, it is essential to highlight in this space, the emergence and development of the Forum, which has shown that it not only seeks to norm and generate standards on best practices within the exercise of jurisdictional functions of SAIs but also promotes active dialogue to effectively combat problems against independence, fraud, corruption, and inefficiency, aligning with other INTOSAI initiatives and its Regional Groups. This reflects a continuous commitment to improving the management of public funds, consolidating a solid, reasonable, and reliable financial integrity framework, calling for the advocacy of independence, and international and inter-institutional information exchange for the development of jurisdictional processes in civil, administrative matters, or those that result in indications of criminal responsibility.

It is important to acknowledge all the steps taken by the Forum, particularly the meeting held in Bangkok on October 16 and 17, 2023, where members opted for the creation of a new structure of the Forum, including JuriSAI as a possible attached entity. This would bring the Forum of Supreme Audit Institutions with Jurisdictional Functions closer to official recognition within the International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions (INTOSAI).

Seeking official recognition within INTOSAI and the adoption of the INTOSAI-P 50 Guidelines are fundamental steps for SAIs with jurisdictional functions, in order to strengthening their role and legal compliance in the public sector and the global sphere.

This achievement would not only recognize the unique function of these institutions but also facilitate broader adoption and application of the INTOSAI-P 50 Principles, allowing SAIs to fulfill their mandates and serve the public interest with greater independence and professionalism.

– Mauricio Torres, PhD.

Source: Contraloría General del Estado, Ecuador
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