Public auditors ‘face obstacles enforcing accountability during pandemic’

12 Nov 20

Supreme audit institutions face huge pressure to ensure government spending advances the public interest and aids progress of countries’ development, and need help to make their oversight full and effective amid Covid-19, global accounting institutions have said.

 

The international Budget Partnership and the INTOSAI Development Initiative released a joint report looking at the strength of audit and oversight in 117 countries – and found greater collaboration between governments, aid donors and civil society is needed to reinforce accountability.

The pandemic has led to unprecedented spending globally, as governments try to fight the health and economic crises caused by Covid-19, and many countries have expedited their decision-making, often bypassing normal oversight measures.

These investments, which the report recognises as being “essential”, are challenging to oversee.

“Auditors play an essential role, sometimes at great personal risk, but they simply cannot guarantee oversight on their own,” said Martin Aldcroft, senior manager of IDI’s Strategic Support Unit.

“We need all hands on deck to ensure oversight of government budgets, especially during the Covid period.”

Aldcroft said parliamentarians need to take audit reports seriously, the media needs to keep the spotlight on spending, and governments need “help to do better”.

This would include giving communities the channels to provide information to governments and other organisations, because they have essential information on whether budgets are being spent properly.

“This is an unprecedented moment for government spending and accountability, but also an unprecedented opportunity to improve one of the weakest elements in the oversight system – public participation,” said IBP senior director of policy Vivek Ramkumar.

“We urge governments and auditors to explore innovative approaches to engage their publics in oversight efforts.”

The report recommended that governments should ensure supreme audit institutions have the “access, mandate and resources” to produce high-quality audits that include all pandemic spending; that auditors should publish their findings in a timely manner, so lawmakers can hold hearings on findings and the media can help inform society; and all of civil society should pressure governments to take up the recommendations made in the reports.

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