The DESA paper titled, ‘The role of external audits in enhancing transparency and accountability for the Sustainable Development Goals,’ discusses: factors that have facilitated SAIs’ involvement on the SDGs; current initiatives on auditing the SDGs and their emerging results and impacts; challenges and opportunities related to SDG audits; and the positioning of SAIs in national accountability mechanisms on SDG implementation.
The paper indicates that some SAIs that have concluded their audits have already reported instances of positive impacts, such as moving governments to act in response to audit findings and recommendations, and triggering action by other stakeholders.
January 2019: The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) released a working paper that examines the involvement of supreme audit institutions (SAIs) in auditing the preparedness of governments for SDG implementation since 2015. The authors find that these audits have produced valuable information that is not necessarily available from other national processes linked with SDG follow-up and review.
The paper titled, The role of external audits in enhancing transparency and accountability for the Sustainable Development Goals, discusses: factors that have facilitated SAIs’ involvement in the SDGs; current initiatives on auditing the SDGs and their emerging results and impact; the institutional, technical, political, communication, and collaboration challenges and opportunities related to SDG audits; and the positioning of SAIs in national accountability mechanisms on SDG implementation. Based on its review of SAI experiences, the paper notes that findings and recommendations from SDG audits can contribute to improving policy design and implementation, and can provide independent and objective evaluations that strengthen transparency and accountability in SDG implementation.
Authored by Aránzazu Guillán Montero and David Le Blanc of the DESA’s Division for Public Institutions and Digital Government (DPIDG), the paper states that SAIs, as national accountability institutions, can use their formal mandate to oversee and assess government efforts to implement the SDGs, and complement other accountability institutions and actors, such as parliaments, civil society and the media, as well as governments’ internal monitoring and evaluation systems. The authors report that in many countries, SAIs have audited the preparedness of their governments to implement the SDGs, and some are now moving towards auditing SDG implementation. Based on a review of 194 members of the International Association of Supreme Audit Institutions (INTOSAI), the authors find that: 34 SAIs have audited issues and programmes related to the SDGs; over 70 SAIs have conducted audits of preparedness for the implementation of the SDGs; and sub-national audit institutions in federal or highly decentralized countries are also engaging with SDGs, such as the Province of Buenos Aires in Argentina, the City of Bogota in Colombia, and the State of Parana in Brazil.
The paper indicates that the INTOSAI Development Initiative (IDI) on “Auditing SDGs” has been one of the main drivers of these efforts. The programme, launched in March 2016, seeks to strengthen INTOSAI’s efforts to support SAIs to contribute to the SDGs, and has issued, among other tools, a guidance on auditing preparedness for SDG implementation. The paper adds that: over 70 SAIs, including one sub-national audit institution, are participating in the programme; SAIs from the Arabic-speaking region are expected to join in 2019; and IDI plans to produce a compendium of audit findings and lessons learned in 2019.
On actions taken by SAIs in countries, the paper indicates that countries such as Austria, Canada, the Netherlands have audited their government preparedness for SDG implementation and that some audits have looked at preparedness to implement specific SDG targets. It also notes that SAIs in Sudan and other countries have assessed the national capacity to produce data to monitor SDGs, and some (such as Brazil, Germany and the Netherlands) have developed guidelines or used existing reference handbooks and methodologies to ensure a uniform approach in conducting the audits.
On assessing the performance of programmes to advance specific SDG areas, the paper indicates that Costa Rica has conducted an audit on poverty reduction (SDG 1) and is conducting other audits on different SDG sectors including health, transportation, agriculture, water and sanitation, and judicial institutions. Brazil’s SAI is coordinating an audit on the implementation of selected targets of SDG 14 (life below water) and 15 (life on land).
The paper reports that some SAIs that have concluded their audits have already reported instances of positive impacts. Among those, it notes that some audits have moved governments to act in response to audit findings and recommendations. In Canada, for instance, the government has set up new implementation and coordination structures for the SDGs in response to an audit recommendation. SDG audits have also triggered action by other stakeholders, the paper says, noting that in the Netherlands, the audit report has contributed to strengthening collaboration with parliament and legislators on the SDGs.
On challenges faced by SAIs, the paper outlines similar challenges to the ones faced by governments when preparing for implementing the SDGs, and similar challenges between developed and developing countries. These include: coordination, integration and coherence; vertical integration; budgeting for the SDGs; and effective mechanisms for stakeholder engagement.
The INTOSAI strategic plan 2017-2022, adopted at the XXII International Congress of Supreme Audit Institutions (INCOSAI) in December 2016, recognizes SAIs’ support to the follow-up and review of the SDGs as a cross-cutting priority. The outcome document of the Congress, the Abu Dhabi Declaration, highlights INTOSAI’s commitment to support the implementation of the strategic plan and report on SDG progress. In July 2018, DESA and the IDI jointly organized their second meeting on the contributions of Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs) to the SDGs. Participants reflected on their experiences and lessons learned from auditing governments’ preparedness for SDG implementation. Discussions also focused on the relationship between SAIs and external stakeholders regarding SDG implementation and the role of SAIs. [Publication: The Role of External Audits in Enhancing Transparency and Accountability for the Sustainable Development Goals] [DESA working papers’ list]