INTOSAI and the Sustainable Development Goals

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Globally, and in each of our respective nations, we are in an era of interconnections, complexity, and rapid change that creates a set of new and daunting challenges for national governance and international institutions. The recent global financial crisis, international health pandemics, cross-border migration and refugees, long-term public sector fiscal sustainability, public corruption and money laundering, and looming fiscal exposures from climate change are prominent examples of the growing interconnectedness of challenges nations individually and collectively face. 

Underscoring those interconnections, this past September, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly Member States jointly committed to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the centerpiece of that agenda and provide an ambitious and long-term commitment for action across a broad range of vital issues related to “people, planet and prosperity.”  

The challenges Nations are confronting and the 2030 Agenda have profound implications—and opportunities--for INTOSAI and national Supreme Audit Institutions (SAI) as they deliver value to decision-makers and citizens. However, just as national governments must think and act differently to respond to the vexing governance challenges they face, so too must INTOSAI and SAIs think and act differently to be successful in the future.  

Fortunately, there is a growing global recognition—and importantly, expectation—of the central roles of INTOSAI and SAIs in promoting good governance and accountability. The recognition of these roles was first prominently shown in the UN General Assembly Resolution of December 2011, “Promoting the efficiency, accountability, effectiveness and transparency of public administration by strengthening supreme audit institutions” (A/66/209).

Building on that recognition, the UN, in various forums and through the active engagement of INTOSAI, has underscored the indispensable role of independent and capable SAIs will have in the efficient, effective, transparent, and accountable implementation of the 2030 Agenda. This recognition was highlighted again by the UN Member States in the General Assembly’s December 2014 resolution, “Promoting and fostering the efficiency, accountability, effectiveness and transparency of public administration by strengthening supreme audit institutions” (A/69/228).  

More recently, the General Assembly this past July endorsed the outcome document of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development, the "Addis Ababa Action Agenda", which is an integral part of the 2030 Agenda.  The outcome document contains an explicit commitment to strengthening SAIs as independent national oversight mechanisms and enhancing transparency. (A/RES/69/313)

The UN Member State declaration, “Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda For Sustainable Development,” noted that “Our Governments have the primary responsibility for follow-up and review, at the national, regional and global levels, in relation to the progress made in implementing the Goals and targets over the coming fifteen years.”  

SAIs can, through their audits and consistent with their mandates and priorities, make valuable contributions to national efforts to track progress, monitor implementation, and identify improvement opportunities across the full set of the SDGs. Specifically, SAIs can contribute to national, regional, and global implementation of the 2030 Agenda by:

  • Supporting national efforts to build effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions, as called for by SDG 16;
  • Auditing national systems of assessing progress toward meeting national sustainable development goals;
  • Undertaking performance audits that examine the economy, efficiency, and effectiveness of key government programs that contribute to specific aspects of the SDGs; and 
  • Being models of transparency and accountability in their own operations, including auditing and reporting.

 

 Illustrative Areas Where SAIs, Subject to their Individual Mandates, Could Contribute to the Follow-up And Review of the SDG

  • Advocate improvements within public financial management systems through, for example, improved governmental accounting practices. 
  • Review national transparency, risk management, anti-fraud protections, and internal control processes to contribute to corruption prevention efforts consistent with the United Nations Convention against Corruption.
  • Audit the capacity of national statistical and vital records systems to produce the data needed to ensure that no individual or social issue is “invisible” from a data standpoint and to report progress on national sustainable development goals.
  • Assess the validity of the chosen national targets and performance measures, of the availability of baseline performance data, and the sufficiency of the overall performance measurement system.  
  • Evaluate the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of the key government programs for addressing a national sustainable development goal in a specific topical area (e.g., education, infrastructure, public health, etc.) and what needs to be done to better meet the goal.  
  • Review and engage in the “data revolution” by assessing government’s ability to harness Big Data for decision-making and use data analytics to pinpoint improvement opportunities.  
  • Examine national Open Data and civic engagement strategies. 
  • Report on the nation’s overall progress in meeting the SDGs and/or providing data and insight for the country report to be provided as part of the UN’s follow-up and review processes.   

 INTOSAI has long been active in many of the areas above as well as other key topics covered by the SDGs.  For example,

  •  Helping national governments fight corruption and safeguard public assets has long been a major focus of INTOSAI and individual SAIs.
  • The INTOSAI Working Group on Environmental Auditing, with over 70 member SAIs, assists all SAIs in acquiring a better understanding of the specific issues involved in environmental auditing; facilitates exchange of information and experience among SAIs; and publishes guidelines and other informative material for their use. 
  • The INTOSAI Working Group on Financial Modernization and Regulatory Reform, with over 25 member SAIs, has developed tools and knowledge sharing opportunities for evaluating national reforms, shared information on the progress of reforms, and tracked reforms at national and international levels.

To meet national and global expectations, INTOSAI must operate in a more integrated and effective manner given the value-adding role of INTOSAI’s strategic goals and objectives and their interdependency.  The INTOSAI Strategic Plan for 2017-2022 will seek to more fully address the crosscutting nature of INTOSAI’s goals, objectives, and initiatives. 

Effective implementation of the strategic plan—once approved by the INTOSAI Congress in 2016--will be crucial as INTOSAI and SAIs promote “the efficiency, accountability, effectiveness and transparency of public administration, which is conducive to the achievement of national development objectives and priorities as well as the internationally agreed development goals” (A/69/228).  

 

-Chris Mihm

US GAO

 


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