25 July 2017
SAIs Discuss Preparedness Audits for SDG Implementation
Photo Credit: Lynn Wagner
story highlights

Discussions noted the need for SAIs to evaluate inclusiveness and performance beyond their traditional financial and compliance focus.

Speakers encouraged evaluating preparedness for implementing the SDGs now, before measuring actual implementation of the SDGs.

Questions about how SAIs should scope an audit – whether it should address all 17 SDGs or just one or two, and whether it should be a “whole of government” or “whole of society” approach – were raised.

Speakers also discussed how to engage government, parliaments and civil society in audits, and noted that the 2030 Agenda’s emphasis on leaving no one behind means that SDG plans and audits should incorporate multiple dimensions that can cause vulnerability.

21 July 2017: The International Organisation of Supreme Audit Institutions (INTOSAI) Development Initiative (IDI) and UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) organized a meeting on the theme, ‘Auditing Preparedness for the Implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),’ during which participants encouraged evaluating national preparedness for implementing the SDGs now, before measuring actual implementation of the SDGs. Discussions also addressed how Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs) should scope an audit – whether it should address all 17 SDGs or just one or two, and whether it should be a “whole of government” or “whole of society” approach. The meeting gathered over 100 participants, including Auditors General and other representatives from SAIs, representatives from UN Member States and the UN Secretariat and other stakeholders, at UN Headquarters in New York, US, from 20-21 July 2017.

Thomas Gass, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs, DESA, opened the two-day meeting and noted that SAIs are well positioned to promote trust in government and can contribute to development outcomes. He stressed that auditing for preparedness for implementing the SDGs should address inclusiveness, given that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is based on the principle of no one left behind.

Preparedness for Implementation of the SDGs – An Auditor’s Perspective

J. Christopher Mihm, Managing Director for Strategic Issues, US Government Accountability Office (GAO), moderated this session. Speakers emphasized the role of communication, consultation and identifying national SDG implementation objectives when conducting preparedness audits, and emphasized that audits could evaluate the level of preparedness to implement the SDGs, and not just a baseline status of implementation. One speaker said his country undertook an extensive national debate on the theme of “leave no one behind,” with discussions also addressing how to balance the three dimensions of sustainable development when developing its SDG implementation plan. Another speaker said that, by announcing that her office was conducting an audit of the preparedness of the government to implement the SDGs, the audit has already had an impact because the government has begun thinking about the SDGs. She noted a challenge for auditors in deciding whether to rate an activity as implementing the SDGs if it does not explicitly refer to the SDGs.

SDGs and Whole of Government Approach – What is Different for the Auditor?

Julie Gelfand, Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, National Audit Office of Canada, moderated this session. Given the integrated nature of the SDG framework, discussions addressed the need to consider interactions among ministries and not only focus on efforts to achieve a single Goal. A distinction between a “whole of government” and “whole of society” approach was also made during this discussion, with the latter being focused on the planning and efforts of civil society organizations in addition to governmental actors and how assessments of both types of actors could be included in audits. In this regard, a presenter noted that SDG implementation will not be successful if governments are the only actors involved with implementation and reviewed how the commitments of other actors could be incorporated into audits.

Speakers referred to the differences between “traditional” auditing approaches and SDG approaches, with the former focused on inputs and outputs for various activities, and the latter incorporating attention to interactions between activities. One speaker suggested that audits can assess whether a government is thinking of SDG implementation as a whole of government approach and said that, through audits, SAIs have the opportunity to stimulate the government to have more policy coherence among its actions. Another speaker highlighted that the 2030 Agenda requires new ways of thinking and new capacities, including within the auditing community.

Getting Institutions Ready for the SDGs– Auditing Policy Coherence & Integration

This session was moderated by Jan van Schalkwyk, Executive in the Office of the Auditor-General of South Africa. David le Blanc, Chief of Development Management Branch, DESA/Division for Public Administration and Development Management (DPADM), noted that Agenda 21, which was adopted in 1992, recognized the interlinkages that are essential to implementing the 2030 Agenda. He said that what is new is that the SDGs provide a common map that most actors can find themselves on. He suggested that the benchmarks that auditors will identify depend on what they focus on, with options including: efforts by governments such as the creation of new institutions and mapping efforts; activities, such as the number of consultations and publications; or outcomes.

Uchita de Zoysa, Sustainable Development Advisor, Ministry of Sustainable Development and Wildlife, Sri Lanka, noted that it is not easy for policy planning to implement 169 targets at once, and said this challenge is complicated by the fact that UN agencies are in competition to implement the SDGs. He emphasized the importance of bringing stakeholders to the table from day one, or risk losing them, and suggested that there should be standardized national reporting on SDG implementation and the UN should create a “scoreboard of transition.”

Another speaker said audits should address national ownership and answer questions such as: to what extent the government has adopted a SDG framework into its national planning documents; has government allocated responsibility at ministerial level and created accountability; and has a plan to follow-up on the MDGs been created?

Audits should answer questions such as to what extent the government has adopted a SDG framework into its national planning documents, and has government allocated responsibility at ministerial level and created accountability?

Another speaker said it is the duty of the SAI community to help citizens “sleep well at night,” and suggested focusing on the big picture to watch over SDG implementation and policy integration. During the discussion, participants highlighted that audits and SAIs should take into account the need for legislative commitments and parliamentarian involvement in the implementation of the SDGs, the value of regional approaches to SDG implementation, and the need for a new financial architecture to service a new transformative agenda. One speaker suggested that each new audit should identify which of the SDGs it will consider, as a way to raise awareness of the SDGs.

Leaving No One Behind – Auditing Inclusiveness

This session was moderated by Marion Barthelemy, Director, DPADM. Speakers noted that audits could look at specific programs that target the poor and vulnerable groups, to assess how they work, or they could look at the “whole of government” to evaluate whether these issues are incorporated into a range of government policies. Attention was drawn to the need to disaggregate data based on income, gender, age, migratory status, race, ethnicity, geographic location and other issues, and to assess whether governments are tracking outcomes based on these dimensions.

One speaker announced the upcoming publication of a new methodology on auditing gender equality in the SDGs, and said it is inevitable that SAIs will have to audit gender equality if they are auditing the SDGs because the SDGs cannot be achieved without gender equality. He noted that, in many Goal areas, governments have had programming in place for many years, and suggested that audits ask what was in place before the goals were adopted and what government is prepared to do differently. He also suggested preparing legislators for audits, so they can use them to hold government responsible.

Stakeholder Engagement – Multi-stakeholder Approach to SDG Implementation & Audit

Heidi Mendoza, Undersecretary General for the United Nations Office of Internal Oversight (OIOS), moderated this session. Speakers highlighted the need to ask how governments are engaging with stakeholders, and emphasized the need for SAIs to communicate and engage with different stakeholders when doing a preparedness audit. They noted that stakeholders bring relevant information about how programs work and whether services have been delivered. In addition, the implementation of the SDGs will require a whole of society approach and understanding who uses information and how they access it (for example, radio or social media) will influence outcomes.

Mobilising Means of Implementation – Auditing Capacities and Resources for SDG Implementation

This session was moderated by Pamela Monroe-Ellis, Auditor General of Jamaica. Speakers discussed the importance of national capacity building efforts and work with IDI on auditing preparedness.

Indicators, Baselines and Data – Auditing Capacities & Challenges

This session was moderated by J. Christopher Mihm, US GAO. Yongyi Min, Chief, Sustainable Development Goal Monitoring Unit, UN Statistical Commission (UNSC), briefed participants on the work of the Inter-agency and Expert Group on SDG indicators (IAEG-SDGs) to create the global indicator framework, which was recently adopted by the UN General Assembly. The resolution adopting the indicator framework includes a section on capacity building and indicates that the global indicators will be refined yearly and at periodic global review sessions. Min noted that there are 232 unique indicators in the global indicator set, with nine indicators being repeated on some goals and targets (which explains why the number is sometimes cited as 241 indicators). She explained that the indicators are organized into three “Tiers.” Tier I indicators are conceptually and methodologically clear, and data to assess them are regularly collected. Tier II indicators are methodologically clear, but related data are not regularly collected. The methodology to assess Tier III indicators is not established, and the data are not collected. Min noted that the global indicators have been established for global review and follow up, with an annual progress report based on them (The Sustainable Development Goals Report). She cited the need to disaggregate data in order to get to the core of the agenda: no one left behind. She highlighted the need for national statistical offices to play a coordinating role in data collection, and called attention to the Cape Town Action Plan for Sustainable Development Data.

Role of SAIs in SDG Follow-up & Review – Way Forward

At the beginning of this session, Ambassador David Donoghue, Permanent Representative from Ireland, delivered a keynote presentation. Donoghue highlighted that the bulk of SDG implementation needs to take place at the national level, and requires appropriate use of funding and integrated approaches. He said a whole of government approach is something that the negotiators worked hard to design, and the SDGs will not be achieved unless each country pursues cross-cutting, integrated approaches. He noted that the “leave no one behind” aspect of the SDGs will be a challenge for auditing institutions.

Archana Shirsat, Deputy Director General and Head of Capacity Development, IDI, moderated a discussion in this session. Speakers emphasized that SAIs have a public responsibility to audit for the SDGs, and noted that a tripartite approach to audits – at the global, regional and national levels – should be pursued. Capacity challenges were noted to exist for some countries and regions. An example of a cooperative audit for a transboundary water resource, in which national reports and a regional report were coordinated by auditors in the border countries, was discussed. The value of communication and sharing of ideas and good practice in audits was also highlighted. A speaker emphasized that, if a coordinated approach in the UN and at national audit offices can be achieved, we can get globally valid information on how we are doing with implementing the SDGs, which will be very powerful in driving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development forward. [Meeting website][Agenda (with links to presentations)][IISD Sources]

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