Collaboration between Supreme Audit Institutions and Citizens is Critical in Ensuring Accountability and Transparency of Government’s Response to COVID-19

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At this stage of the pandemic, Supreme Audit Institutions (SAI) all over the world are grappling with the question of what to do now and how to plan for the future. The World Bank’s latest paper on the ‘Role of Supreme Audit Institutions in Governments’ Response to COVID-19: Emergency and Post-emergency Phases’  underscores the importance of transparency, accountability, and engaging citizens and civil society organizations (CSO) to counter perceptions of corruption. 

Participatory auditing led by SAIs, with various stakeholders’ participation has evolved over time. Successful approaches, which can be useful during COVID-19, vary in terms of the level of involvement of citizens and CSOs. In rare cases, SAIs may conduct audits jointly with citizens and CSOs. On the other end of the spectrum, audit plans can be developed based on complaints from citizens and CSOs. 

During the emergency phase, auditors are expected to not hinder governments’ rapid responses to the pandemic. So, direct CSOs and citizen participation may not be appropriate during this stage. However, in countries where SAIs have the mandate to conduct ‘pre-audit’ or ‘ex-ante’ audits, this can be done through citizen participation using digital tools.   

In the post-emergency phase, SAIs need to conduct different types of audits on government compliance, financial and performance.  They need to be mindful that civil servants may have had to make quick decisions during the emergency response. Citizens and CSOs can help validate audit findings and bring third party objectivity to the information and findings disclosed by ministries who often did not have time to deliberate.  They are more likely to reflect the broader concerns of the public and would add value to the audit process. Where possible, credible CSOs and citizens with well-established knowledge could also be directly involved in the audit process on a voluntary or token honorarium basis, with appropriate checks and balances. 

SAIs could develop quick and brief audits focused on a particular theme and issue these as standalone reports instead of one comprehensive report that takes much longer to complete.  While such reports can give early insights to and be used primarily by policy makers and executive leadership as governments embark on strengthening their health systems and adopting economic recovery measures, they will also provide citizens and CSOs good information to demand accountability on a more timely basis. 

Citizen engagement can also help SAIs mitigate their own institutional challenges, particularly in developing countries. One challenge that can be exacerbated during the pandemic is budget cuts, which could significantly affect SAIs ability to conduct audits of COVID-19 expenditures. To mitigate potential risks, SAIs need to have a strategy with a clear narrative in place that explains their role, based on a legal framework.  They can ensure that this is communicated to citizens and CSOs as well as other stakeholders (e.g. The World Bank) that support SAI independence. Support from stakeholders can help protect the funding of SAIs, and thereby ensure effective audits of governments’ responses to COVID19. 

In addition to improving SAIs’ credibility, involving citizens and CSOs in SAIs’ audits would contribute to ensuring the much-needed collective action in dealing with the aftermath of the pandemic. The global pandemic has created an opportunity for increased openness and collaboration to improve the quality and depth of SAIs’ audit work and to build future resilience. So, SAIs could seize the opportunity to mainstream participation of citizens and CSOs in audit of government finances/programs going forward.  
 

Join the Conversation

Romain Guéléo NDOUBA
July 14, 2020

I think it's better thing to audit the governements about COVID 19 by participative approach.

Leonard Ozoemena
July 14, 2020

Thoughtful, well written, useful and inclusive; awesome share Ed! Salute - Len -

Donald Mark Omong
July 14, 2020

Thank you for the Article. To add on, I think citizen participation can enhance effective auditing. However, low levels of community empowerment may affect the projected SAIs effort. It would be good to involve the private sector as they may provide meaningful feedback. Also, the private sector plays a profound role towards economic recovery.

Graham Joscelyne
July 14, 2020

Hello Ed:
A very timely, practical, and forward-looking article.
We're all living in interesting times and can't operate exactly as we did before Covid.
You provide some useful guidance to SAIs.
Thank you.
Graham

Luis Fernando Velásquez Leal
July 15, 2020

Excelente artículo Mr. Olowo-Okere. He tenido la oportunidad de dirigir e implementar varios diseños institucionales que facilitan la participación ciudadana en los procesos de Auditoría en América Latina y el Caribe y coincido con usted en que esta es la mejor oportunidad para mejorar la calidad del control institucional. Agregaría varios aspectos a su artículo: 1. La emergencia COVID-19 debería permitir la mejorar los marcos legales para la fiscalización a través del impulso de herramientas de auditoría como el control concurrente, simultáneo o en tiempo real. 2. Las EFS deberían fortalecer sus capacidades adaptativas para atender las demandas de fiscalización de los recursos de emergencia y hacer uso de los aprendizajes y buenas prácticas llevadas a cabo en la región en los últimos 20 años. Hay mucho de donde echar mano!. 3. Identificar los espacios más apropiados para facilitar la participación en el proceso auditor y desarrollar programas para el seguimiento ciudadano a las recomendaciones de auditoría. Este espacio es especialmente productivo para el fortalecimiento de la participación, el control social y la prestación de servicios óptimos al ciudadano. 4. Creo también que hay que realizar importantes esfuerzos para fortalecer las capacidades de los ciudadanos y organizaciones civiles para la participación informada y responsable. En mi experiencia, le diría que existen múltiples formas e innovaciones para generar esta interacción entre ciudadanos, organizaciones civiles y EFS las cuales pueden ser aplicadas no solo en la etapa de emergencia sino en la etapa de posterior a la pandemia. Clave incentivar la genuina participación de los ciudadanos en el mejoramiento de la gestión institucional.

Ranganathan PK
January 08, 2021

A thoughtful article with lot of purpose for public understanding of the government audit process. In any country, the citizens and tax payers are the real masters of the Government Auditors. Particularly in the context of Covod-19 pandemic, the role of public audit institutions in enabling timely and accurate update of the quality and efficacy of the governments' pandemic containment and alleviation programmes where billions of dollars are spent world over by the elected governments. In this backdrop, the article by Ed is just super and sets the tone very powerfully and eloquently! Kudos Ed!
Ranganathan PK