Supreme Audit Institutions: a new frontier of security sector governance? | Part I

by Anícia Lalá · January 11, 2017.

A European Union support project to the Cour de Comptes in Guinea-Bissau caught my attention recently as I looked to find complementarities with a potential upcoming Justice programme. This work reinforced the point that, just like many Public Sector Reform initiatives that have been undertaken in isolation from Security and Justice Reforms, different layers of oversight end-up disconnected by the excessive compartmentalisation of donor support programmes. More work on harmonisation is required. This issue will be discussed in two parts. This first part lays the context and interrogates the work carried out in support of the Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs). The second part, explores how building interlinkages between different components of reform would reinforce the contribution of the SAI to security sector governance.

The SAI are national institutions responsible for overseeing and holding government to account for its use and management of public resources, mainly through technical audits of government revenue and spending[1]. Support to SAIs generally occurs within public sector reform or public financial accountability programmes, with little to no attention awarded to building their capacity around security sector issues.  At the same time, security and justice programmes in general pay limited attention to oversight outside their own institutional framework (self-regulation), and when they do the focus is generally on Parliament and civil society organisations (CSO), less on the media and virtually not at all on SAIs.

The UN General Assembly Resolution A/66/209  renewed the impetus of donor programming on the SAIs, by endorsing the promotion of efficiency, accountability, effectiveness and transparency of public administration through their institutional strengthening.  The World Bank, the EU, Sweden, UK and Germany have provided consistent and prominent support in this area.  Their accumulated experience, as well as that from the work carried out by the International Organisation of Supreme Audit Institutions (INTOSAI) and its members, has been captured in guidance notes and in good practice. The OECD-DAC has also recognised a potential contribution by the SAIs to the implementation of the principles set in the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, including through donor use of national SAI audits in aid reviews. Furthermore, INTOSAI’s willingness to engage SAIs in the monitoring of SDGs implementation through performance audits has been recently noted. 

Despite this flurry of activity, the different national SAIs still face limitations, ranging from lack of effective independence, inadequate resources, to a shortage of specialised technical skills.  This bears consequence on the quality and impact of the work they produce, and builds a strong case for enhanced support to the SAIs.

What evidence is there that the SAIs have been able to contribute in practice to financial oversight of the security sector in developing countries?

The information found is inconclusive.  It shows that SAIs scored the lowest in strength rankings in the Middle East and North Africa with 21%, followed by Sub-Saharan Africa with 29%, South Asia with 41% and Latin America and Caribbean with 47%.  However it pointed out that in 33 of the 85 countries surveyed the SAIs did not undertake audits of the security sector.  It is also not known how the remaining 52 countries carried out their audits in this field, and with what sort of impact.  This lack of information makes it pertinent to ask as well what type of support and under which frameworks are the SAIs being reinforced to perform their role with regard to the security sector? There seems to be a dire need for systematised research and I would be grateful if you could point me to any studies or evidence on this topic. (TB Continued next week)

[1]  SAI models vary between countries and include the Parliamentarian (Westminster), Judicial (Napoleonic or Court-of-Accounts, Cour de Comptes) and Board Review models, but they all have in common an assumption of independence anchoring their role as overseer of public accounts. This includes an auditing function complemented by the certification of the state’s general budget against criteria of legal compliance in management of public accounts, and quality and reliability of information provided.  This is an important angle of democratic accountability, which also entails the promotion of transparency given that SAIs are expected to make their work publicly available.  Depending on the system and the specific legislation, SAIs may provide support to the development and evaluation of public policies (on the basis of performance audits), and may have as well powers to judge and punish those it finds guilty of misconduct. The contribution of the SAIs to good governance has long been acknowledged by the Lima Declaration and reinforced by the Mexico Declaration.