Supreme audit institutions are facing new challenges and opportunities along with Covid-19

How to ensure that the national and international Covid-19 recovery packages and measures will be efficiently targeted? How to take into account the long-term risks and effects of the recovery measures? – The Covid-19 pandemic highlights the role and importance of supreme audit institutions as protectors of sustainability and functionality in societies.

With the Covid-19 pandemic, the functions and actors in our societies are facing something totally different and new. This also applies to supreme audit institutions, whose primary task is to ensure and verify that state funds are used in accordance with Parliament’s decisions and the law and in a reasonable manner. This is their task even in these special circumstances amid the global crisis, when we are facing new kinds of situations and solutions and unpredictable changes and turns, and when we have to make decisions under extraordinary uncertainty.

This new situation has led to increased and intensified cooperation between the supreme audit institutions and their international cooperative bodies. A good example is the European-level project launched in June 2020 by EUROSAI, the European regional suborganization of the International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions (INTOSAI). The driving forces behind the initiative were originally the SAIs of the United Kingdom and Finland. This project shows how fast and agilely the international community can react in these kinds of special situations.

Protecting the economy with efficient and timely recovery measures

One of the subthemes of the EUROSAI Covid-19 project is titled ”Protecting the economy”. The aim of this workstream is to exchange information and good practices on how to audit and evaluate the measures taken by the states to stabilize the economy especially by ensuring the prerequisites of operation for enterprises. The workstream focuses especially on direct subsidies and liquidity support for enterprises. Issues related to the management of central government finances, such as debt management, will also be addressed. The workstream is led by the National Audit Office of Finland, supported by the SAIs of Estonia, Portugal and the UK. Altogether 15 countries are participating in the workstream.

The work has had a flying start, and the workstream has agreed on a work plan reaching to summer 2021.

“The main aim is to support as timely and efficient audit work as possible on the very actual topic of recovery measures. In Finland, we are looking forward to getting inspiration and advice from the other countries,” states director Matti Okko, the head of the Finnish team, which also includes five other experts from the Finnish SAI.

“Our first meeting was most promising and motivating, but of course, there is a lot of work to be done,” Matti continues.

European countries participating widely in the cooperation

The EUROSAI Covid-19 project has raised wide interest among the SAIs. Altogether 15 countries have joined the project, and there are 5 to 15 countries in each of the 12 different workstreams. The topics of the workstreams have a wide variety, ranging from protecting and managing the economy to the role of SAIs in crisis management and information production, and from different audit approaches and cooperative audits to various specific topical issues such as social and health care and emergency response.

The EUROSAI Covid-19 project works in close operation with INTOSAI to coordinate the European, other regional and global efforts related to the Covid-19 pandemic. This also ensures that the global perspective is taken into account in the European framework as feasible. The project will report its results in the EUROSAI Congress in spring 2021.

The long-term risks and effects of the recovery measures in spotlight

Another timely and interesting Covid-19 related EUROSAI project has also been launched this autumn. ”Preparing for future risks and climate crisis: Time for audit to take a long-term view?” focuses especially on the coherence of the climate targets and the Covid-19 recovery packages and measures: Do the recovery measures accommodate the prevention of the climate change? Do the funding and support mechanisms support the green transition of the economic and social transformation as required? It remains to be decided whether the project will focus on the national recovery packages, the EU Next Generation recovery package, or both. This project is led by the European Court of Auditors (ECA), assisted by the National Audit Office of Finland.

In addition to these European-level projects, there are numerous other Covid-19 related projects and working groups in national, regional and global level. The active and wide participation of the SAIs in these international activities shows clearly the commitment and cooperativeness of the SAIs when aiming to strengthen and confirm the sustainability and stability of the economies and societies.

We have presented this EUROSAI project before in our article “European SAIs intensifying cooperation on the Covid-19 pandemic“.