24 July 2018
Supreme Audit Institutions Discuss Contributions to Accountability under 2030 Agenda
UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
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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.

SAI representatives were also briefed on how they can contribute to the HLPF 2019 review of implementation of SDG 16.

20 July 2018: The UN Department of Social and Economic Affairs (DESA) and the INTOSAI Development Initiative (IDI) jointly organized a 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.

The meeting took place at UN Headquarters in New York, US, from 19-20 July 2018, immediately after the conclusion of the 2018 session of the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF). The event drew on the discussions from the first such meeting on SAIs, which took place immediately following HLPF 2017.

Margit Kraker, Secretary-General of INTOSAI, President of the Austrian Court of Audit and IDI Board Member, highlighted that more than 70 SAIs are preparing SDG preparedness audits. She said the draft reports from SAIs reveal a wide range of findings on preparedness, including with regard to policy coherence and multi-stakeholder engagement, and she emphasized the important role of SAIs in providing independent oversight for SDG implementation. She added that SAIs need to enhance their institutional, professional and organizational capacities related to key SDG themes, including policy coherence, advancing inclusiveness, fostering of innovation and multi-stakeholder engagement, and said it is important to share knowledge and experience among SAIs.

As SAIs shift from conducting SDG preparedness audits to auditing SDG implementation, the group could benefit from peer learning.

Elliott Harris, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development and Chief Economist, DESA, highlighted that SAIs help to improve development outcomes and promote trust in government. He noted that two important milestones will take place in 2019: the HLPF will review implementation of SDG 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions) for the first time, and the HLPF, under the UN General Assembly’s (UNGA) auspices, will “conduct the first full review of SDG implementation.” He said SAIs are in a unique position to inform the review of SDG 16, and also can have an impact on the preparations for the second five-year period of the HLPF. He said that, as SAIs shift from conducting SDG preparedness audits to auditing SDG implementation, methodological challenges may arise, and the group could benefit from peer learning. He said DESA will be glad to continue hosting meetings of the SAIs.

Sharing Experiences on Auditing Policy Coherence and Integration

Geert Bouckaert, UN Committee of Experts on Public Administration (CEPA), led this session, which provided an overview on auditing policy. Bouckaert suggested thinking in cycles, with the cycle beginning and ending with auditing, and audits becoming part of an action plan. He also noted the need to think of degrees of coherence at each stage of the cycle, from designing, to implementing, to following up recommendations and communicating them to parliaments. He concluded with a call to “Communicate, communicate, communicate” so that civil society can pick up the audit’s messages.

Agus Joko Pramono, Board Member, The Board of Audit, Indonesia, said integration challenges are generally found in relation to vertical or horizontal dimensions, as well as with regard to stakeholder engagement. He noted that agencies are still working in silos when setting budgets.

Nino Pruidze, Senior Budget Analyst, State Audit Office, Georgia, discussed SDG readiness in Georgia, noting that leading entities have not been defined for some indicators. Additional challenges include embracing key principles of the 2030 Agenda, such as leaving no one behind and the interconnectedness and indivisibility of the SDGs.

During the discussion, participants considered ways to audit policy coherence. The need for alignment between the auditing and evaluation communities was also highlighted, with a suggestion to develop a division of labor in order to realize the SDGs.

Auditing Preparedness for Advancing Gender Equality

This session offered an overview of what it means to audit inclusiveness and provide for inclusiveness at the SAI level, with a focus on the experience of auditing preparedness for the implementation of SDG 5 (gender equality) in Latin America and Spain. The session was moderator by Maria Lucia, Lima, Brazilian Court of Audit.

Marta Acosta, Auditor General, Costa Rica, said her auditing team built an index on gender equality that helped them to measure whether there was compliance and, as a result of an initial gender audit, two new national policies were introduced: one against gender violence, the other on gender equality. She highlighted the importance of having a multidisciplinary team conducting the audit.

Santiago R. Martinez Arguelles, Deputy Director, Technical Directorate D2F, Spanish Court of Accounts, highlighted the importance of the explicit commitment by Parliament and the role of civil society activists in promoting SDG implementation in Spain. He noted that, while there is no general budget allocation for SDGs, the government’s priorities include energy transition and renewables, and also include resources for gender-related issues.

Andres Castro Franco, Deputy Comptroller of Bogota, DC, noted that a district development plan and a local-level development plan were evaluated for Colombia’s capital city of Bogota, and both needed to include gender components.

During the discussion, the interaction of institutional levels was highlighted as an important component in effective SDG implementation.

Advancing SDG Implementation, Follow-up and Review in SIDS: Experiences Across Regions

This session reflected on the unique challenges that small island development States (SIDS) face in implementing the SDGs, and highlighted challenges that small SAIs in SIDS face in conducting SDG audits. The session was moderated by David Le Blanc, DPIDG/DESA.

Gail Lue Lim, Deputy Auditor General, Auditor General’s Department, Jamaica, said challenges related to the country’s preparedness for SDG implementation included that some staff are unsure of their roles and the finance ministry sees itself as a financier and not a facilitator of SDG implementation. She said there is currently no data available for 115 of the indicators, which limits the ability to assess progress. She said meetings with stakeholders helped the auditors to identify gaps, and she recommended maintaining constant communication with audited entities. She suggested conducting a joint audit of preparedness among SIDS, to engender greater support for the audit process.

Tiofilusi Tiueti, Chief Executive, Pacific Association of SAIs (PASAI), reported on regional findings and lessons learned in conducting performance audits using a whole of government perspective. He said the SDGs are aligned with national development plans, but linkages with lower level plans are not evident. He reported that collaborative working partnerships with stakeholders are not common, but there are some emerging best practices. For example, Fiji has organized participatory budget processes. He noted the need for audit teams to have an understanding of country governance arrangements and highlighted the need to pay attention to the audit team’s composition.

Shirah Nair, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Singapore, discussed Singapore’s approach to SDG implementation, which is a whole of government and “whole of nation” approach. She highlighted the government’s emphasis on efficient sharing of information among agencies, which can help identify interlinkages. She also reviewed REACH (reaching everyone for active citizenry at home), which is a communication strategy that seeks to encourage citizen participation in decision making.

During the discussion, participants highlighted the importance of auditor independence and for auditors to understand the whole of government approach before beginning the audit.

Starting Audits of Preparedness for SDG Implementation: Opportunities and Challenges

This session focused on specific conditions that SAIs face when they begin an audit. The session was moderated by Julie Gelfand, Commissioner of the Environment, Canada, who noted that her team had found it was “difficult to audit nothing” when they began an SDG preparedness audit of the Government of Canada.

Ismahan Mahamoud Ibrahim, Première Présidente,Cour des Comptes et de Discipline Budgétaire, Djibouti, noted challenges stemming from the fact that audits usually take place on performance, not before implementation.

Abdoul Madjib Gueye,President de Chambre, Cour des Comptes, Sénégal, said information from past performance audits on issue areas related to the SDGs can be used in the preparedness audit.

Eltahir Malik, Auditor General, National Audit Chamber, Sudan, said that there was training for the auditors before conducting the preparedness audit, and awareness raising among government entities and other stakeholders.

Matthias Reister, Chief, International Merchandise Trade Statistics, DESA, Statistics Division, reviewed the availability of data for the SDG indicators in developing countries. He said it can take up to two years for a country to establish its national indicator framework. In a study of six countries, it was found that only 20% of the global indicators are currently available, while another 20% are easily feasible (the data source exists but there is not yet a calculated indicator). He also said there are efforts underway to monitor implementation at the local level, which is what is needed to make data actionable.

Gelfand reported that Canada found that 68% of the global indicators are available. Gueye said data for Senegal includes issues with availability, accessibility, updating and organization. He noted that some agricultural data is outside the main system, for example. Ibrahim noted a lack of human resources and availability of software. Malik said SAI Sudan recommended that coordination be undertaken in order to update indicators and that statistics capabilities be updated in order to provide timely data.

Gloria Alonso Masmela, Deputy Comptroller General, General Comptroller, Colombia, said her country has been working on a process to strengthen institutions, including through a participatory auditing process, which seeks to help improve the capability to follow up with the SDGs.

SAIs’ Engagement with the SDGs: Lessons Learned

This session focused on how SAIs can report the findings and recommendations of audits of preparedness, and engage with government and parliaments for enhancing the impact of SDG audits. The session was moderated by David Kanja, Assistant Secretary-General for Internal Oversight Services.

Gelfand said for audits of performance, the 169 targets have been assigned to different audit teams across the office who have been asked to assess the level of risk (high, medium, low) and “auditability” of the target.

Andrea Connell, Head of International Affairs, Netherlands Court of Accounts, discussed ‘Sharaka,’ which is a cooperative programme being implemented by the Netherlands Court of Audit and several Arab supreme audit institutions. She highlighted the seven-step approach to audits adopted by INTOSAI, which includes four questions on the policy framework and three on the data framework. She said the added value for preparedness audits include awareness raising, establishing a baseline, developing new partnerships, early warning, and identifying gaps.

Iyad Tayem, President of the State Audit and Administrative Control Bureau, Palestinian National Authority, said the Palestinian preparedness review found weakness in coordination with the NGO sector and limited actions to raise awareness about SDG implementation. He said the future government plan is focused on the road towards independence, reform with improved service quality, and sustainable development. He noted the challenge with budget planning and strategic planning follow different timeframes.

Malika Didouche, Head of Chamber, Algeria Cour de Comptes, highlighted her office’s work with stakeholders, including during a “day of openness,” which was a kick off event to announce publicly what the SDGs are and what her office was going to do.

Carlos E. Lustosa da Costa, Director Environmental Audit, Brazilian Court of Audit, reviewed the whole of government approach used in partnership with 11 Latin American countries. He said vulnerabilities in the institutionalization of the SDGs include the lack of long-term planning and risk assessment for the 2030 Agenda. He said recommendations include: strengthening the process of institutionalization and establish coordination and communication mechanisms; define long-term planning tools for government action; establish processes for the preparation of the VNR in a participatory and inclusive manner; produce different communication products that are aimed at different audiences; and use a multidisciplinary audit team. He highlighted that he is developing a massive online open course on SDGs and Supreme Audit Institutions.

During the discussion, speakers recommended identifying national priorities and the highest risks for a country when selecting which targets to audit for performance, and developing recommendations that add value and are useful for parliament.

Stakeholder Expectations and Perspectives on SAI Contributions to the SDGs

This panel discussion focused on stakeholders’ expectations and perspectives on the role of SAIs and reflect on how SAIs can contribute to the SDGs in the long run. Lynn Wagner, Group Director, International Institute for Sustainable Development, moderated the session, and welcomed the discussion on how to ensure that stakeholders would “leave no audit behind,” given each audit’s contribution and recommendations for SDG implementation.

Abdulla Lootah, Director General, Federal Competitiveness and Statistics Authority, United Arab Emirates, noted that the SDGs are new for statistics offices too and said collaborative relationships are important for statistics offices.

Saber Chowdhury, Honorary President, Inter-Parliamentary Union, highlighted that parliaments have the mandate to hold governments to account and noted the value of strong links between Parliaments and SAIs.

Vivek Ramkumar, Senior Director of Policy, International Budget Partnership, suggested that SAIs should: ask citizens for advice on what to audit; directly involve citizens in audits; and help CSOs understand technical audit reports.

During the discussion, participants highlighted the role of communication and use of language in audit reports, the role of trust among actors, and the role of stakeholders in ensuring that SAI recommendations are not only accepted but are implemented.

Strengthening SAI Capacities for Auditing SDGs

This session focused on the capacities SAIs need to engage with the SDGs in the long term, and the opportunities and challenges for developing such capacities. Chris Mihm, US Government Accountability Office, moderated this session and asked speakers to focus on how audit institutions can ensure they are fit for purpose to audit SDG implementation.

Jorge Bernedez Soto, Chile, highlighted that SAIs’ raison d’etre is the fight against corruption, and said his audit institution has required all work to be linked to the SDGs.

Kimi Makwetu, Auditor General of South Africa and CBC Chair, highlighted the need to ensure that SAIs have adequate mandates and capacity to be at the center of evaluating the implementation of the Global Goals. He said auditing the environmental SDGs requires a new skill set, and the high volumes of data to be analyzed also mean the audit institutions will need to gear up their capacities to use and apply data. He stressed that SAIs’ credibility will depend on their own accountability and capacity to function as model institutions.

Baohou Sun, China National Audit Office, Working Group on Data Analytics, said China has incorporated all SDGs into its five-year plan. He said the goal of audits is to expose problems and promote accountability, and his office will move forward to further improve and contribute to the accomplishment of the SDGs.

Archana Shirsat, Deputy Director, IDI, said IDI works to strengthen SAIs’ capacities by, inter alia: advocacy and awareness raising; guidance on performance audits of preparedness for implementation of the SDGs; cooperative performance audits of preparedness for implementation of the SDGs; fostering a community of practice of SDG Auditors; and developing a MOOC on leave no one behind from an implementation perspective. She said key messages from the meeting include: SAIs need to advocate their own roles in their national context; SAI leadership needs to determine its strategic direction in engaging with the SDGs; SAIs need to recognize what is different in auditing the 2030 Agenda and consider a whole of government approach; SAIs need to consider inclusiveness when auditing for the SDGs, and they should engage widely with national and international stakeholders throughout the audit process.

SAI Contributions to the Global SDG Review Process in 2019: Setting the Roadmap

This session focused on upcoming international events that SAIs could contribute to. The discussion was moderated by Tytti Yli-Viikari, Auditor General of Finland.

Le Blanc noted that the HLPF is expected to meet in July 2019 under ECOSOC’s auspices for eight days, followed by a meeting in September 2019 under the auspices of the UNGA to look at the entirety of the 2030 Agenda for the first time. He highlighted that expert group meetings are likely to contribute to the review of SDG 16, and the regions will also hold preparatory meetings. Countries who have volunteered to present Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) will prepare them at the national level for presentation during the July session of the HLPF. Le Blanc noted that there will only be one political declaration for HLPF in July and September.

Dorothy Lucks, Co-chair of EVALSDGs, said there are complementary roles for audit and evaluation functions, with the strength of auditing being in compliance, financial, institutional, and process accountability and the strength of evaluation being in assessing the merit, worth and value of interventions.

Archana Shirsat, Deputy Director, IDI, suggested that SAIs should have their audits ready and published in time for them to feed into the work IDI will do related to the HLPF 2019 process. She said IDI will create a compendium of findings.

Carlos E. Lustosa da Costa, Director Environmental Audit, Brazilian Court of Audit, said his SAI contributed to the country’s VNR by evaluating mechanisms of evaluation, but said it did not validate the VNR or its data.

Stefan Schweinfest, Director of DESA’s Statistics Division and Acting Director of the Division for Public Institutions and Digital Government (DPIDG), closed the meeting, highlighting that accountability is the key concept of the SDGs and holding everyone accountable is a crucial concept. [SDG Knowledge Hub sources][Meeting website and documents][Webcast: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4]

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