Former US audit chief calls on institutions to push for change

25 Nov 16

Performance and accountability institutions should lead by example and push for transformation in challenging times, former US comptroller general David Walker has told the CIPFA international seminar.

Speaking in Luxembourg yesterday, Walker, now a senior strategic advisor at PwC, highlighted that the turbulence in the current global economy presents both challenges and opportunities for improvement.

“There is a real need to transform current financial reporting, auditing and accountability practices,” he told delegates, pointing to the problematic byproducts of globalisation, inequality and intergenerational challenges.

In terms of financial reporting, he called for international standards and an accrual-based system to be adopted globally, to prevent governments delivering “false and misleading views” on their financial standing and policy effectiveness.

“Money is important,” he continued, “but it’s not just about how much you spend.” Other financial engagements, like tax practices, as well as information on value for money, performance and sustainability also need to be taken into account, he added.

From an auditing standpoint, Walker stressed auditors should not act as “police” and point out what is working as well as what needs improvement to ensure engagement is constructive.

Auditors should provide compliance oversight, insight into performance, and foresight into trends and challenges facing the institution. They should also stick to a set of core values governing their work, he stated.

“Accountable institutions need to lead by example and practice what you preach,” he said. “We need to be as good as or better than those we assess in how we operate ourselves.

“We’re in a time of transition. That creates challenges but it also creates opportunities. We need to promote transparency, accountability and transformation, and in many cases transformation is critical.”

In doing so, audit institutions can improve trust in governments, performance, and accountability and work towards a “better future”, he concluded.

Speaking alongside Walker was Tim Gilling, deputy chief executive of the UK’s Centre for Public Scrutiny. He emphasised that public scrutiny and accountability are more than just red tape, but deliver openness and credibility – critical in a ‘post-truth’ world.

He described how successful audit and scrutiny should be done, covering issues like inclusivity, the importance of looking at systems overall, crossing organisational boundries, and focusing on the point of view of the public or consumer.

The session also heard from the European Court of Auditors member, Kevin Cardiff, who described the challenges and approaches to auditing a huge and complex institution like the European Union. 

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