International cooperation supports sustainable renewal of general government finances and public administration

The COVID-19 crisis distances and separates, but at the same time brings people and states together. We are all experiencing the same concern and uncertainty. At times like these, national and international cooperation networks, and the work done over the decades to build and strengthen them, demonstrate their strength.

Tytti Yli-Viikari wrote in her blog about the strengths of Finnish public administration that have proven helpful during the crisis. (The blog in Finnish) The role of international cooperation and networks is equally important both during and after the crisis. It is an invaluable resource that actors from different countries have access to platforms, structures, tools and connections that enable them to share experiences and knowledge and to do things together, rather than acting on their own.

The quality and effectiveness of decisions must also be safeguarded during the corona crisis

Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs) and international cooperation organisations in the field also took an active role right at the beginning of the crisis.  The common approach has been to exchange information and experiences on the impacts of the crisis on the audit of the functioning of central government finances and public administration in different countries, as well as on how to respond to the new challenges presented by the crisis. Even in these exceptional circumstances, the common objective is to ensure and verify that the decisions and measures taken in public administration are sustainable and meet the requirements of good governance.

One concrete example of such measures is the cooperation quickly initiated by EUROSAI, the European regional sub-organisation of the International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions (INTOSAI): at the beginning of June, EUROSAI launched a COVID-19 project open to all its member states, coordinated by the British and Finnish SAIs. The project has organised a series of virtual discussions in which representatives of SAIs in different countries have exchanged ideas and experiences. On Thursday, 2 July 2020, there will be a final webinar, moderated by the heads of the Finnish and British SAIs, to discuss the next steps in the project.

Knowledge sharing and common practices

International cooperation is at the heart of the implementation and development of audit work. It enables learning from each other agencies and allows sharing and developing our own experiences and skills. Another important element of international cooperation is the development of methods and standards for external audit and oversight. All INTOSAI member states have committed themselves to the commonly established ISSAI standards, which aim to ensure the quality, comparability and effectiveness of audit work and information produced in audits, as well as targeting of audits on the essential issues.

Finnish experts are currently widely involved in auditing tasks of international organisations and actors, in various cooperation projects and projects, in the reform of standards and methods in the field, and in trust and governing bodies of international organisations. In addition to INTOSAI and EUROSAI mentioned above, other important cooperation partners include the European Court of Auditors, the Nordic sister agencies, as well as the OECD and the UN.

Finland — larger than its size also in the audit world

Finland is known worldwide as a country with effective, efficient and reliable public administration. This has opened up many opportunities for cooperation and has also aroused interest in the audit community. The NAOF has actively sought to share Finnish administrative expertise and the findings of its audits regarding the functioning of public administration and its development in different arenas, and has thus contributed to the global recognition and appreciation of the Finnish society.  The interest in the ‘Finnish model’ can also be seen in our everyday work: each year, the NAOF responds to dozens of different international surveys and enquiries regarding the way Finnish society and public administration works and solutions implemented in Finland.

The COVID-19 crisis has made the functioning, preparedness, risk management and predictability of public administration increasingly important. These will also remain important themes for international cooperation in the coming years. In addition to the sustainability of public administration and general government finances, the focus of NAOF in the international cooperation is on the Sustainable Development Goals set out in the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, as well as on international strategy work, quality control, digitisation, and data analytics.

Finland has taken an active role especially in incorporating sustainability aspects into audit work. As part of this, the NAOF will coordinate the work of INTOSAI’s international Working Group on Environmental Auditing (WGEA) in 2020–2026, which will involve extensive international cooperation especially on environmental and climate issues. A more multidimensional approach to sustainable development in societal and economic decision-making contributes to sustained, coherent and balanced development.

We live in a world of systemic change and complex phenomena, where different actors and issues are strongly linked and interconnected. Through international and national networks and cooperation, the NAOF continues to be involved in ensuring the conditions for sustainable governance, quality decision-making and well-being in society. Together we are stronger, even in times of crisis.

Author: Heli Mikkelä

Heli Mikkelä’s area of responsibility is Sustainable Governance and Public Administration, and in addition to it, the development of international audit cooperation.