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How to audit preparedness for natural disasters: an output of cooperation, triggering cooperation?

When it comes to drafting International Standards for Supreme Audit Institutions — ISSAIs — practical audit experiences, preferably from several supreme audit institutions (SAIs) serve as essential input. Arife Coşkun is Audit Manager at the Turkish Court of Accounts and was the main draftswoman for the ISSAI 5510 guidelines on auditing disaster risk reduction. She explains why cooperation is essential to this type of job and related parallel/coordinated audits.

By Arife Coşkun, Turkish Court of Accounts

INTOSAI working group on the Audit of Disaster-related Aid

The International Organisation of Supreme Audit Institutions (INTOSAI) set up the INTOSAI Working Group on Accountability for and the Audit of Disaster-related Aid (WG AADA) at the XIX INTOSAI Congress (INCOSAI) in Mexico in 2007. One of the aims of this working group was to study and to explore how SAIs are auditing disaster preparedness, and to set out guidelines for such audits.

WG AADA held its first meeting in Luxembourg in July 2008, hosted by the chair of the working group, the ECA, to arrange the task sharing. Within the working group, the Turkish Court of Accounts (TCA) took on the task of preparing the guidelines on auditing disaster preparedness for SAIs within WG AADA. Until then, we had produced two performance audit reports relating to disaster issues in the TCA and I considered my knowledge and experience rather limited. Undoubtedly, this was not enough for preparing guidelines on auditing disaster preparedness for SAIs. For that reason, we decided to gather other SAIs’ experiences and studies.

This was possible thanks to the contribution and cooperation of other SAIs and international organisations such as UN organisations, the World Bank and NGOs, and, mainly, the ECA’s support at every stage of the work.

Cooperation to gather input

A first step was to carry out document analysis in order to obtain background information about the subject and this task, including reviewing articles and studies concerning disaster management to understand the overall environment of disaster preparedness. This study showed us that the concept of ‘disaster preparedness’ covers a small part of the activities relating to disaster risk reduction. In addition, we collected the experiences of SAIs in the area of disaster management and particularly disaster preparedness. It quickly became clear that only a limited numbers of SAIs had published reports concerning disaster management. Moreover, there were far fewer reports relating to the disaster preparedness phase than reports concerning the rehabilitation/reconstruction and emergency response stages.

To overcome the shortage of information about the views and experiences of SAIs concerning disaster preparedness, we prepared a survey in order to note SAIs’ approaches to these matters and benefit from their experiences. Thirty-five INTOSAI members replied to the survey and thereby contributed to the drafting process of ISSAI 5510. In addition, many external stakeholders of SAIs made an important contribution to the drafting process for the standard.

During the different drafting stages of the ISSAI 5510, we received many comments and contributions from SAIs — mostly from those who had supported the initiative from the outset, but also from the OECD and the World Bank. Also very relevant and valuable was the input received from the UN office for disaster risk reduction (UNISDR). Their opinions and comments enriched the content of ISSAI 5510 and clearly contributed to its improvement. In fact, our initial task changed and underwent a transformation. For example, the title of ISSAI 5510 was changed to ‘Audit of disaster risk reduction’ with the aim of bringing it into conformity with the terminology more often used in the field of disaster management. The scope of the guidelines expanded to cover all issues concerning pre-disaster stages and reducing disaster risks.

After a challenging process, under the leadership of the ECA, we completed the uphill task successfully and prepared the ISSAI 5510 — one of the six INTOSAI documents in this policy area. It was adopted in 2013.

Collecting and testing guidelines in a parallel/coordinated audit of SAIs

While drafting ISSAI 5510 within the INTOSAI WW-AADA, the TCA organised and led a parallel/ coordinated audit on the same subject called Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR). The main aim here was testing the initial ISSAI 5510 guidelines we had drafted and improving their content.

The parallel/coordinated audit on DRR was carried out with the participation of the SAIs of Azerbaijan, Chile, India, Indonesia, the Netherlands (observer), Pakistan, Philippines, Romania, Ukraine and Turkey, mostly countries that had faced several devastating disasters. The results of the parallel/coordinated audit were summarised in a joint report.

During this audit, interviews were held with the responsible authorities and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the other bodies concerned, to get their opinion and to specify their needs in this area. This parallel/coordinated audit was based on audit questions and criteria, building on the participating SAIs’ input, assembled in a so-called ‘audit matrix’. As the project manager for this common task, I found that all participants made great efforts to contribute to the audit. However, most of the participating SAIs could not perform all the elements as laid out in the audit matrix, due to a lack of corporate capacity or audit mandate. For that reason, many SAIs recommended that the selected auditors should receive more training on how to implement this type of audit, and assess countries’ capacities to manage this field.

As a result, combining forces through the parallel/coordinated audit allowed the participating SAIs to take a broader view of the subject, to compare their own audit capacities with the others’, and to benchmark best practices. Clearly, this joint initiative added value to the collective experiences relating to DRR, relevant for both governments and SAIs.

Arife Coşkun presenting the results, as moderator, of the session covering the audit of disaster-related aid and the related ISSAI 5500 series at the Xth EUROSAI Congress in Istanbul on 22–25 May 2017.

Contribution to the global efforts in the policy area — disseminating the ISSAI 5510

Before and after the endorsement of ISSAI 5510 on the audit of DRR and the publication of the joint report, I presented them at different international platforms. The first one was the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in Geneva in May 2013, where ECA Member Gijs de Vries, as chair of the WG AADA, also gave a presentation. After presenting the ISSAI 5510 on this platform, UNISDR invited me to contribute to the global effort to assess the global progress and development of new policies in this field. In this context, I prepared a paper, which scrutinised the accountability framework and the SAIs’ contribution for the Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction 2015.

Subsequently, I shared my views and experiences at workshops and conferences. These included the workshop entitled ‘Learning from crises and fostering the continuous improvement of risk governance and management,’ which was organised by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Oslo in September 2014; the 5th OECD High Level Risk Forum, held in Washington, D.C. in December 2015; and the European Forum For Disaster Risk Reduction (EFDRR), organised in Istanbul in March 2017.

At all these platforms I tried to share the experiences of SAIs and my experiences obtained from the audit work undertaken within the WG AADA framework. I highlighted the need to assess the sufficiency of the existing accountability framework for disaster risk reduction, also drawing the international community’s attention to the role of SAIs in the field of DRR. In doing so, I also underscored the need for a new accountability framework for DRR.

Main take-aways from working in the INTOSAI context

My assignments within the INTOSAI WG AADA gave me personally a great opportunity to learn about DRR in general and about the audit activities of SAIs in particular. It was a very enriching experience — both in content and in process — to gather SAIs’ outputs in this area and learn the views and expectations of SAIs and stakeholders. When we finalised both ‘projects’ — the ISSAI 5510 and the parallel/coordinated audit — I realised how little I knew about auditing DRR at the start.

It is essential in cooperation to share your knowledge and experience. I tried to do so, reflecting my knowledge and experience when drafting ISSAI 5510 and the joint report resulting from the parallel/coordinated audit. Additionally, I used the collective experiences of SAIs and my knowledge to contribute to the global efforts relating to DRR. The more I did so, including working with SAIs, international organisations and non-governmental organisations, the more I realised that the concept of accountability is not perceived to have the same meaning in different countries and cultures.

The needs of all stakeholders brought issues such as enhancing accountability and governance to the forefront. Conducting both projects, we noticed that many SAIs’ corporate capacities were not sufficient to meet the expectations of all the stakeholders involved in the activities concerning disaster risk reduction. Besides, international policies relating to DRR have been changing decade after decade, in parallel with disaster risks

Towards the future: making good use of the guidance when auditing DRR

More and more people — be they experts, politicians or citizens — realise that the diversity and frequency of disasters are increasing, not least because of climate change. To mitigate the effects, societies have to focus — and act — on disaster risks in the future. It is clear that the SAIs have a role to play in these efforts. In view of the numerous cross-border risks, but also for the purpose of benchmarking and learning, SAIs should consider carrying out parallel or coordinated audits. Whether undertaken alone or in cooperation, the audit guidelines presented in ISSAI 5510 will provide a good basis for such audit efforts.

Moreover, I believe that ISSAI 5510 is particularly well suited to audits carried out in cooperation among SAIs, firstly because it builds on similar cooperation experiences gathered during the drafting process. I would like to take this opportunity to express my thanks and appreciation to all the contributors and participating SAIs for their great support. And secondly, because it addresses — due to the consultations we held with many stakeholders — the expectations of all the major stakeholders active in this area. One could even argue that the expectations of the stakeholders, including those operating at international level, oblige SAIs to take new auditing approaches that require collaboration, team work, best practice sharing and cross-border impact assessment.

All in all, I believe that ISSAI 5510 — which is actually an output of collective effort by the SAIs — and the aforementioned joint report will form a good basis for cooperation between SAIs. A cooperation that will most likely include capacity building and knowledge sharing, but, I hope, go beyond that, extending to audit cooperation itself, leading to powerful, convincing recommendations supported by several SAIs, triggering policy decision makers to address DRR properly.

This article was first published on the November-December 2018 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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