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Flipping the narrative: from fighting corruption to building integrity

Participants in an IntoSAINT workshop. Source: Rekenkamer Curacao.

As good as fighting corruption may be, the term itself also often creates a negative connotation: there is something bad that needs to be eradicated, or at least kept as small as possible. The public expects external auditors to play an important role in keeping the government clean — but can SAIs deliver? And do SAIs live up to their own expectations in terms of being a model organisation, leading by example. Ina de Haan, senior auditor at the Algemene Rekenkamer (Netherlands Court of Audit), has been actively contributing to developing a self-assessment tool for SAIs’ institutional integrity, named IntoSAINT. She gives her insights into what IntoSAINT is, and a number of impressions from audit institutions which have worked with IntoSAINT.

By Ina de Haan, Netherlands Court of Audit

Corruption in the eye of the citizen: a complicated story

Public trust in government is a fickle commodity. According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) public trust has been declining all over the globe. However, there are exceptions, i.e. some countries where it has been growing. Over time there have been huge fluctuations in trust, showing that trust can be lost and regained.

Corruption is a major cause of erosion of trust and no society is free of corruption. Fighting corruption is definitely on the radar of the International Organisation of Supreme Audit Institutions (INTOSAI) and other international organisations and it is a growing business for Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), donor agencies and consultants. However, the past 25 years of concerted and mounting efforts to fight corruption have not eradicated the phenomenon. There are many reasons why this is the case. One reason is that ‘grand’ corruption is driven by political power and feeds on the existence of complex international constructions used for illicit money transfers. Another reason is that ‘petty’ corruption is usually deeply rooted in local social norms and circumstances and sometimes even makes perfect sense in a context of fragile states. Whatever the reason, the question is whether ‘fighting corruption’ is an effective narrative that helps to keep corruption in government at bay and to restore trust in government.

This question is especially relevant when we look at the role of Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs). The public expects external public auditors to play an important role in keeping the government clean, but can we deliver? Every time we fail to unearth cases of corruption that are brought to light by other entities or the media, we may fail in the eye of citizens. Most SAIs are powerless when it comes to detecting and punishing cases of corruption, be they grand or petty. It does not really fit their role, which is to keep government transparent and accountable. This is a complicated story to get across to the public.

Need for another narrative

To be effective, and to contribute to trust in government, we need another narrative: a narrative of building integrity, of good examples, of inspirational leadership and hope. This need has been recognised by INTOSAI, and International Standard of Supreme Audit Institutions (ISSAI) 12 gives us guidance on how this can be done: SAIs making a difference to the lives of citizens by strengthening the integrity of government and public sector entities and being a model organisation, leading by example. This is flipping the narrative: from fighting corruption to building integrity.

Raising awareness of integrity

Since its introduction in 2010 IntoSAINT, the INTOSAI tool for Self-Assessment of Integrity, has been an important driver in this paradigm shift.

IntoSAINT is a two-day structured workshop where a relevant cross-section of SAI staff, facilitated by two external moderators, analyses the strengths and weaknesses of the integrity of the organisation. The result is a report with recommendations from the SAI’s own staff to strengthen the institutional integrity policy. IntoSAINT is designed to have a double impact, when applied:

  • the backbone of the tool is a set of two questionnaires that provides the basis for a thorough integrity risk assessment, complemented by a questionnaire that provides insight into the maturity of integrity controls. This allows the organisation to think in terms of integrity risks and strengthen the internal controls;
  • applying the tool through a workshop with employees raises awareness of integrity risks and ethical dilemmas in their work, and, most importantly, employees start to realise that integrity is not only a personal characteristic, but a responsibility shared by the whole organisation.

Two key IntoSAINT objectives

The aim of rolling-out IntoSAINT in the INTOSAI community is to achieve two objectives. By the application of IntoSAINT within the SAI, the SAI starts implementing ISSAI 30 and at the same time becomes acquainted with the integrity approach. This makes the SAI ready to lead by example in the second step: implementing the integrity approach in the public sector and its audit work.

IntoSAINT implementation and support are coordinated by a workstream within the INTOSAI Capacity Building Committee. Since IntoSAINT was launched in 2010, more than 300 auditors from over 80 countries have been trained in this methodology. More than 50 SAIs have since applied the tool to their own organisation, some of which have taken the next step to bring this approach to their public sector.

SAI reactions to the IntoSAINT experience

Several SAIs have shared some impressions of what the IntoSAINT workshop has meant to them and some first results; see the text boxes below.

Integrity within the SAI

SAI of Mexico (ASF)

At the SAI of Mexico, the IntoSAINT workshop led to the establishment of an Integrity Policy, which comprises a Code of Ethics, a Code of Conduct and a Guideline to Prevent Conflicts of Interests. Additionally, an integrity committee and an official mechanism to deal with integrity breaches were created. An integrity coordinator was appointed as well, who is in charge of looking after the implementation of the Integrity Policy.

‘The most visible impact of IntoSAINT is awareness on integrity matters by the staff. Once the tool was applied at the SAI of Mexico in 2012 for the very first time, the personnel started thinking on the new approach of integrity fostered by the IntoSAINT methodology. The staff knew about ethical dilemmas faced in their daily work, but this mental exercise had never been conscious. This conscious analysis on integrity issues and how to act properly is an immediate change in the staff behaviour caused by the IntoSAINT tool.’

SAI of Iraq (FBSA)

In 2012 and 2017, two workshops were held at the FBSA in collaboration with the Netherlands Court of Audit. The purpose was to identify strengths in FBSA work and points that needed support and improvement when carrying out audit tasks in a way that enhances the relation with stakeholders.

FBSA’s top management has a clear vision of the importance of applying the tool and implementing the recommendations of the final report concerning the results of the workshops and of the application of the tool.

SAI of Morocco (CdC)

IntoSAINT is valued as a strategic development tool that supports the integrity of the CDC and its staff. It is regarded as a means by which the standards of conduct and proceedings can be generalised among the CDC structures and entities. Debate over integrity matters revealed the necessity of setting up a permanent integrity monitoring system at the level of the Cour des Comptes to successfully meet these objectives. Efforts to implement the recommendations included appointing an ethics commission of six members and entrusting it with the mission of advising the First President on concerns regarding ethics. The commission also has the duty to promote integrity awareness-raising and conduct outreach and training activities for the benefit of the Cour des Comptes magistrates and administrative staff.

Integrity in the public sector

SAI of Iraq (FBSA)

The idea is to benefit from this effective tool for enhancing institutional integrity in the public sector by a preventive approach based on understanding the activity and analysing integrity violation risks, as well as establishing the necessary procedures to manage these risks. In line with the above, FBSA has included a strategic goal in its strategic plan (2018–2022) that focuses on ‘Enhancement of Transparency and Integrity Principles’ and develops projects, standards and tools to implement this goal and measure progress.

SAI of Hungary (SAO)

Inspired by an EU Twinning project on corruption risk mapping with the Netherlands Court of Audit in 2008, the Hungarian SAI’s vision was to develop its Integrity Project: Integrity against Corruption. Since 2009 the SAO has conducted an annual integrity survey among public sector entities, modelled on the questionnaires used in IntoSAINT. The survey aims to serve as an effective tool to give feedback to public institutions on their exposure to risks associated with corruption and assess the control measures required to manage corruption risks.

SAI of Morocco (CDC)

A series of seminars will be held at national and sub-national levels on the theme ‘Promoting Public Service Integrity.’

Inspire each other

SAI of Hungary (SAO)

The SAO organises regular Intergity Seminars for SAIs all around the word, to familiarize them with the SAO’s Integrity Project and the use of the Integrity Survey.

SAI of Morocco (CDC)

We had the opportunity to have two staff from the CDC trained in moderating the IntoSAINT tool. These two moderators in their turn facilitated integrity self-assessments for the Supreme Audit Intitutions of Lebanon and Tunisia.

We are planning to invite partner institutions for cooperation on integrity. The aim of this cooperation is to widen the scope of experience sharing and best practices exchange on promoting integrity among SAIs and hence contribute to the further dissemination and strengthening of IntoSAINT and the integrity approach.

Flip the narrative

Crucial to the success of IntoSAINT is that it provides common ground and a common framework for SAIs in respect of integrity in many different contexts and cultures. This allows them to support each other, to learn from each other’s experiences, both in training and lessons-learned meetings and through the valuable experience of being an IntoSAINT moderator in another SAI. Within the European Organisation of Supreme Audit Organisations (EUROSAI) the Taskforce on Audit & Ethics has included this into its working plan.

This is how SAIs can start and actually are starting to flip the narrative: from fighting corruption to building integrity. IntoSAINT helps them to inspire each other with good examples, inspirational leadership and hope, thus making a difference to the lives of citizens by strengthening the integrity of government and public sector entities and being a model organisation leading by example.

This article was first published on the 2/2019 issue of the ECA Journal. The contents of the interviews and the articles are the sole responsibility of the interviewees and authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the European Court of Auditors.

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