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INTOSAI: the global umbrella organization of supreme audit institutions with the motto ‘Mutual experience benefits all’

For audit institutions across the world, the International Organisation of supreme Audit Institutions — INTOSAI — is what the United Nations is for theircountries: the global cooperation platform for sharing experience, developing audit standards and guidelines, and promoting capacity building for audit institutions. Its overarching objective: the promotion of good governance and improving citizens’ lives across the globe. Monika González-Koss has worked in the INTOSAI General Secretariat in Vienna since 1991 and has been its director for several years . In view of these many years of experience, she is well placed to provide insights into INTOSAI, its organisation, its activities, and its perspectives on the future, including the changes regarding the ‘INTOSAI standards.’

By Monika González-Koss, INTOSAI General Secretariat, Austrian Court of Audit

Contributing to good governance and trust in the interest of citizens

It was in November 1953 when 34 supreme audit institutions (SAIs) and the United Nations met in , Havana, Cuba, for their first Congress, to create the International Organisation of Supreme Audit Institutions (INTOSAI). Among those 34 founding participants were representatives from South America, Europe, Africa as well as — curiously enough — the Vatican State.

At present INTOSAI counts 200 members — 194 full members, 5 associate members and 1 affiliate member, most of them members of one of the seven regional organisations, which assist the member SAIs on a regional basis. The headquarter of INTOSAI is in Vienna in the Austrian Court of Audit (ACA), and the President of the ACA is also INTOSAI’s Secretary General.

In keeping with its motto ‘Mutual experience benefits all’ (or ‘Experientia mutual omnibus prodest’), INTOSAI acts as the permanent, autonomous, independent and non-political professional organisation of the world’s external government audit institutions and of the UN specialized agencies, and represents them as their recognized international umbrella organisation.

Meeting at the 24th UN INTOSAI Symposium in 2017 at the UN in New York. Source: INTOSAI Secretariat.

Through the preparation of professional standards, institutional capacity building and knowledge sharing and knowledge services, INTOSAI makes a vital contribution to promoting good governance, enhancing transparency and accountability and fighting corruption. This also contributes to maintaining the credibility of public governance and strengthening confidence in it, which, in turn, makes a beneficial difference to the lives of its member states citizens.

INTOSAI and the United Nations

INTOSAI’s recognition has grown steadily in the last 65 years owing to its diverse activities, and the UN General Assembly Resolutions A/66/209 of December 2011 and A/69/228 of December 2014 have certainly marked the high point of this recognition to date.

In these resolutions, the UN General Assembly took note with appreciation of the work of INTOSAI in promoting greater efficiency, accountability, effectiveness, transparency and the efficient and effective use of public resources for the benefit of citizens. At the same time, the UN General Assembly also recognized the principles of independence laid down in the INTOSAI Declarations of Lima and Mexico and encouraged its member states to apply the principles specified in those declarations in compliance with their national institutional structures.

For nearly 50 years, INTOSAI has cooperated closely with the United Nations. Since 1998, INTOSAI has enjoyed Special Consultative Status to the United Nations. Since 1971, the INTOSAI General Secretariat has regularly organized high-ranking capacity building symposia, the UN/INTOSAI Symposia, with the United Nations Department for Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) in Vienna, Austria.

INTOSAI has already held 24 UN/INTOSAI Symposia on a large number of themes of interest to SAIs. These included environmental auditing, the value and benefits of SAIs, sustainable development and SAIs’ contributions, IT audits, accountability, audit and advisory activities and citizens engagement, E-Government, SAI independence, the audit of health care, and — in 2017 — ‘Digitalization, open data and data mining: relevance and implications for SAIs’ audit work and for enhancing their contributions to the follow-up and review of the SDGs’ — where SDG stands for Sustainable Development Goals.

INTOSAI has also launched numerous initiatives to support SAIs in making an essential contribution to the success of the UN 2030 Agenda and the SDGs. The role of SAIs with regard to reviewing and monitoring the implementation of the SDGs was, for example, one of the two focal themes taking center stage at the XXII International Congress of Supreme Audit Institutions — also called INCOSAI XXII — in Abu Dhabi in 2016. The Congress confirmed the interest of SAIs in carrying out audits and reviews with regard to the SDGs via the following four approaches:

  • assessing the preparedness of national governments to implement the SDGs;
  • undertaking performance audits in the context of the SDGs;
  • contributing to the implementation of SDG 16, which envisages effective, accountable and transparent institutions;

– the possibilities for SAIs to act as models of transparency and accountability in their own operations.

Since INCOSAI XXII, more than 100 member SAIs have already shown concrete interest in carrying out SDG-related audits and are doing so at present and quite a number of SDGS related international audit reports have been published on the INTOSAI website .

INTOSAI as successful organisation

There are a number of other milestones that illustrate the success story of INTOSAI as an independent international platform, which serves the exchange of knowledge and experience and acts as the worldwide voice of Supreme Audit Institutions in the international community.

These milestones encompass the development — to date — of three Strategic Plans featuring four strategic goals — ‘Professional Standards, Capacity Development,’ ‘Knowledge Sharing and Knowledge Services,’ and ‘Maximize the Value of INTOSAI as an international organisation.’ All the all activities of the Goal Committees, Sub-Committees, Working Groups, Task Forces and Project Groups are geared towards these goals (see figure 1 for the INTOSAI organisation chart). This also includes the preparation of a communication strategy that is to safeguard a consistent level of information and development in the INTOSAI community in a spirit of equality and inclusiveness.

Figure 1: INTOSAI Organisation Chart. Source: INTOSAI Secretariat.

INTOSAI and all its organs, namely the INCOSAI, the Governing Board, the General Secretariat in Vienna, the Goal Committees, the Supervisory Committee on Emerging Issues, the International Journal of Government Auditing, the INTOSAI Development Initiative and the seven regional organisations’ have committed themselves to active and effective implementation of the organisation’s strategic goals and its five cross-cutting priorities:

  • SAI independence;
  • SAI follow-up and review of the SDGs;
  • development and coordination of standard-setting, capacity development, and knowledge sharing;
  • creating an agile and strategic INTOSAI;
  • leveraging the Regional Organisations — established to enhance accountability, transparency and good governance and to safeguard the credibility of SAIs for the benefit of citizens around the globe.

The future of INTOSAI

In the future INTOSAI aims to remain the global umbrella organisation for SAIs regarding professional standards, institutional capacity building and knowledge sharing. This will require vigilance and foresight in respect of the needs of its members and continual development of relevant content, and organizing and presenting it to members and others. Some examples of developments with great importance for the professional future of INTOSAI and its member SAIs are the following:

INTOSAI Framework of Professional Pronouncements (IFPP)

This new framework is a major step into an even more professional future for INTOSAI. The purpose of the IFPP, which should be concluded by the end of 2019, is to improve the credibility of INTOSAI’s Professional Pronouncements, helping to make them an authoritative framework for public sector auditing and to enhance their technical quality.

The IFPP includes the overarching INTOSAI Principles (INTOSAI — P), the International Standards of Supreme Audit Institutions (ISSAIs) and the supporting INTOSAI Guidance (GUID). The ISSAI brand will be retained and ISSAIs will remain an integral part of the IFPP. Only documents that set out requirements to support ISSAI 100 and are consistent with ISSAI 100 are designated as ISSAIs. The IFPP is designed to clarify what SAIs need to do be able to claim ISSAI compliance. The IFPP provides for the development in the future of an INTOSAI competency framework for public sector auditing as well as other pronouncements that may facilitate ISSAI implementation. The INTOSAI-GOVs category has not retained as a separate category but merged with the ‘Guidelines on specific subjects’ to form a new category designated as GUIDs.

Framework for Regional Professionalism

An INTOSAI Framework for Regional Professionalism has been established alongside the INTOSAI strategic cross-cutting priority n° 5 to leverage the seven INTOSAI regional organisations. As autonomous entities, established for the purpose of promoting professional and technical cooperation between its members, INTOSAI’s regional organisations aim to create maximum value for their member SAIs by supporting their members’needs.

The purpose of this framework is to assist the regional organisations into attaining the highest levels of professionalism by providing a reference guide that they can use as the foundation for their strategic planning. The framework identifies the following four strategic dimensions:

  • institutional support for the SAIS;
  • professionalisation and methodology support;
  • advocacy and influence;
  • governance, organisation and sustainability.

Mutual experience benefits alI

INTOSAI strives and has always strived to respond to the needs and concerns of each member, to safeguard and promote a free and comprehensive flow of information and experience and to bundle the global knowledge and know-how gained in practical external audit experience. This focus on a practical and member-oriented way of working is well reflected in the themes of the 22 international Congresses held to date and in the pivotal decisions that were taken at those INCOSAIs.

For the future, INTOSAI aims to continue to serve its members and the global public audit community through cooperation, because cooperation between SAIs is essential in order to learn and improve, as reflected in the INTOSAI motto, ‘Mutual experience benefits all.’

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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The ECA Journal features articles on a variety of current audit topics, the ECA’s role and work. It is available in electronic form below, and paper copies can be ordered online at the EU Bookshop.

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