Stakeholders, Audit Community Discuss Government Accountability for SDGs
Photo by IISD | Lynn Wagner
story highlights

A webinar held by the International Forum for National NGO Platforms, in collaboration with the Canadian Council for International Co-operation and other international networks, highlighted national experiences on auditing SDG preparedness, and SDG initiatives undertaken by the audit community.

IDI in collaboration with the INTOSAI Knowledge Sharing Committee launched a capacity development programme to support and encourage Supreme Audit Institutions to contribute to the SDGs.

18 January 2018: During a webinar on accountability for Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) implementation, stakeholders and representatives from the government audit community discussed the role of audits in making progress on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Participants also highlighted national experiences on auditing SDG preparedness, and SDG initiatives undertaken by the audit community.

The webinar titled, ‘Holding Governments to Account for SDG Implementation,’ was hosted by the International Forum for National NGO Platforms (IFP), and organized in collaboration with the Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC) and other international networks.

Opening the meeting on 18 January 2018, Fraser Reilly-King, CCIC, reported that approximately 300 people had registered to the webinar, which illustrates the importance given to government accountability for SDG implementation. He added that Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs) are independent from governments, and they primarily oversee the management of public funds, but also seek to ensure good governance and accountability.

Khalid Hamid, Executive Director, State Audit Institution, United Arab Emirates, reported that the
 International Congress of Supreme Audit Institutions (INCOSAI), which took place in Abu Dhabi in December 2016, considered how SAIs could get involved in the SDG process. He highlighted the International Organisation of Supreme Audit Institutions’ (INTOSAI) four approaches to the SDGs, including: assessing preparedness of national governments to implement, monitor and report on SDG progress; undertaking performance audits that examines the economy, efficiency, and effectiveness of key government programmers that contribute to specific aspects of the SDGs; assessing and supporting the implementation of SDG 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions) “which relates in part to transparent, efficient and accountable institutions;” and being models of transparency and accountability in SAI operations, including auditing and reporting.

Archana Shirsat, INTOSAI Development Initiative (IDI), remarked that SAIs have a central role to play in the independent oversight of 2030 Agenda implementation, but their role has often been “ignored” by governments far. She introduced a capacity development programme on ‘Auditing Sustainable Development Goals,’ launched by IDI, in cooperation with INTOSAI Knowledge Sharing Committee (KSC), that seeks to support and encourage SAIs to contribute to the SDGs. The programme includes awareness raising and advocacy, and a community of practice of SDG auditors including an open course, and will be delivered in English, Spanish, Arabic and French, she said. Shirsat also indicated that a two-day workshop should take place immediately after the 2018 session of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) to provide SAI officials the opportunity to share and discuss their SDG audit results.

Chris Mihm, US Government Accountability Office, noted the need to “look across institutional boundaries” and to work with a variety of partners to move towards SDG implementation. He provided examples of areas where national audits can work to advance the 2030 Agenda, including on whether governments: focus on the results they need to achieve the SDGs (in terms of policy coherence or contributing to common outcomes for instance); can manage systemic risks; use collaborative mechanisms to achieve national sustainable development objectives; use data and disaggregated data to inform decisions on the SDGs; build capacities in “new ways” to achieve the 2030 Agenda; and use strategies for engagement with citizens and other stakeholders.

On national experiences with auditing the SDGs, Andrea Connell, Netherlands Court of Audit 
(NCA), said the NCA reviewed the Netherlands preparedness to achieve the SDGs, and included its conclusions in a letter addressed to the House of Representatives of the States General in September 2017. The letter notes that the government has made “a swift and well-organised start” but that there are a number of areas that require attention “to ensure a lasting long-term impact.” Among the positive findings of the review, Connell stated a clear political commitment, a strong role of national statistical office in SDG monitoring, and broad stakeholder engagement. On areas where the government needs to pay more attention, she mentioned, inter alia, the importance of policy coordination and cooperation between central and local governments, the connection between the SDGs and the national budgetary cycle, and the need to better include SDGs and sustainable development in general in primary and secondary education.

Connell also outlined the need to carry out the audit process early to spur governments in “early action,” adding that the SDGs present an opportunity for SAIs to cooperate with each others, and to experiment and innovate in their audit techniques. She also noted that INTOSAI adopted seven steps approach to assess preparedness of a country to report on progress against the SDGs. The approach includes steps related to the policy framework (such as political commitment, building public awareness on the SDGs, preparing detailed plans to apply the SDGs at national and subnational levels); and steps related to the data framework (such as designing and establishing systems to measure and monitor SDG goals and targets; setting baselines for the different indicators; and monitoring and reporting arrangements).

Tjokorda Gde Budi Kusuma, the Audit Board of the Republic of Indonesia, noted the strong commitment of the Indonesian President to implement the SDGs, adding that Indonesia submitted its voluntary national review (VNR) at the HLPF 2017. He indicated that a portal for auditing the SDGs is being developed and will be linked to his government’s data. He said the portal should use a whole-of-society approach, and stakeholders should be able to provide inputs and data for measuring achievements. He also remarked that 26 members of parliament have adopted one or the other SDG and committed to give them priority.

Julie Gelfand, Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, Office of the Auditor General of Canada
, noted that Canada is the only country with a commissioner on Environment and Sustainable Development in the “INTOSAI family.” She announced that the first audit on whether Canada is ready to implement the SDGs will be released in April 2018, and that the audit process helped advance thinking and action on SDGs by the government. In Canada, the Commissioner reports directly to Parliamentarians with objective, independent analysis and recommendations on the federal government’s efforts to protect the environment and foster sustainable development.

Dashiell Costa, Auditor, Tribunal de Contas da União, Brazil, said his office conducted an audit in 2016-2017 on the 2030 Agenda as a whole and on SDG taget 2.4 in particular (“ensure sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices”). Using the FOD (Fragmentation, Overlap and Duplication) approach as a basic framework, the audit related to target 2.4 assessed not only if policies related to this target were effective, but looked at interactions between them to see if they were coherent and efficient, and if there were conflicts between them. The audit found that some of the policies were well aligned (for instance organic food production and low carbon policies), but that some others lacked coherence, such as those related to technical assistance to farmers and the organic food production.

Participants also highlighted the importance of public participation and stakeholder engagement in contributing to overseeing SDG implementation. [IDI ‘Auditing the SDGs’ Brochure] [How can INTOSAI Contribute to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development?] [Dutch Government Preparations Aimed at Achieving the SDGs: Letter from the Netherlands Court of Audit of September 2017] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on INTOSAI-DESA July 2017 Meeting on Auditing Preparedness for SDG Implementation]

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