European SAIs intensifying cooperation on the COVID-19 pandemic

European Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs) have agreed to cooperate widely to generate information on the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, governments’ responses to it and the recovery from it. The National Audit Office of Finland (NAOF) has taken an active role in setting up a special COVID-19 project, coordinated jointly by the NAOs of the UK and Finland. This is in line with the main target of the international cooperation of the NAOF: how to strengthen SAIs’ preparedness to emerging issues, as well as the timeliness of audit work.

At the beginning of June, EUROSAI, the European regional sub-organisation of the International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions (INTOSAI), launched a COVID-19 project open to all its members. The project is coordinated by the SAIs of the UK and Finland. More than half of the EUROSAI members have joined the project so far.

The key issues to be examined in the project concern, for example, social and health care, crisis resilience, economic and business security in crisis situations, and business continuity.

At the beginning, the SAIs have exchanged information and experiences on the impacts of the crisis on the audit of central government finances and public administration. The participants have also shared views and ideas on how to respond to the new challenges presented by the crisis.

The common objective of the SAIs is to ensure and verify that the decisions and measures taken in public administration are sustainable and meet the requirements of good governance even in these exceptional circumstances. These objectives are also at the core of the international audit standards (ISSAI standards), especially the ISSAI12 standard, which emphasises the societal impact of SAIs and benefits of SAIs.

Thirty members have already signed up to the cooperation project

The project has organised a series of virtual discussions in which representatives of SAIs have exchanged ideas and experiences. The project has attracted widespread interest: to date, a total of 37 SAIs have participated in project events, and 30 have signed up to the project.

“It’s great to see how agilely SAIs have reacted to the current themes and started to build cooperation”, says Tytti Yli-Viikari, the Auditor General of the NAOF.

On Thursday, 2 July 2020, a joint webinar was held to discuss the issues raised in the virtual discussions and outline the future project priorities and forms of cooperation. A total of 12 themes was identified in the discussions as potential areas of cooperation. These include the development of cooperation, the promotion of the role and tasks of SAIs, and different audit topics and the reform of audit work.

Cross-administrative challenges during crises identified as one of the key issues

Among the key issues raised are social and health issues, security of supply, crisis responses, the proper functioning of the economy and the various cross-administrative challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic. Many of these issues are crossboundary and common to different countries, and thus require extensive international cooperation to deal with.

The next step will be to identify the willingness of different SAIs to participate in these themes. The final themes to be included in the project will be selected in the early autumn. The results of the work will be reported to the 2021 EUROSAI Congress.

Finland’s activities in EUROSAI

EUROSAI (European Organisation of Supreme Audit Institutions), established in 1990, groups the Supreme Audit Institutions of Europe together. At present, the organisation has fifty members  (the Supreme Audit Institutions of 49 European countries and the European Court of Auditors).

The supreme decision-making power in the organisation is vested in the Congress meeting every three years and the Governing Board, which is appointed for a term of three years. Expert work takes place in working groups, which are steered by the EUROSAI strategy (2017–2023). The General Secretariat of EUROSAI is located at the Spanish Court of Audit.

At the EUROSAI Congress held in the Hague in June 2014, the NAOF was elected to the Governing Board of EUROSAI until 2020. However, the current term now continues until 2021, because the coronavirus pandemic postponed the 2020 Congress by one year.

For the past few years, Finland has been responsible for the Emerging Issues and Forward Thinking portfolio, the aim of which is to introduce new topics and themes arising from changes in the operating environment and the development of audit activities to the joint discussion. EUROSAI’s COVID-19 project belongs to this portfolio.

The themes in the same project portfolio include the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, digitalisation and data analytics, competence development and strategic management, societal changes and transitions such as the ageing of the population, and changes in public administration and in the civil society.

Author: Heli Mikkelä