Strengthening capacities — the work of France’s Cour des comptes with the French-speaking SAIs

Participants at the AISCCUF “TOP congress” in Abidjan on June 2018, hosted by the SAI of Ivory Coast. Source: French Cour des comptes.

Cooperation between organisations that share similarities differs from cooperation in other forums. The Association of Supreme Audit Institutions (AISCCUF), which brings together supreme audit institutions having the use of French in common, is one example of this. However, language may not be their only common feature: quite often, they also have similar mandates, organisation and methodology. Many AISCCUF members also share one important feature: they have jurisdictional powers, enabling them to sanction managers of public funds. Rémi Frentz, the Director of International Relations at France’s Cour des comptes, and Alban Baric, staff member in the same department, highlight AISCCUF’s main activities, focusing on the jurisdictional powers shared by several of its members.

By Rémi Frentz and Alban Baric, France’s Cour des comptes

An association with 42 members

France’s Cour des comptes (Court of Accounts) hosts the General Secretariat of the Association of Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs) having the use of French in common (AISCCUF). Since the association was created in 1994, its main objective has been to help strengthen the rule of law by contributing to capacity-building at French-speaking supreme audit institutions. In fact, AISCCUF is one of the 15 institutional networks of the Francophonie. AISCCUF’s specific aim is to facilitate professional exchanges between SAIs and, since 2008, to promote the values of the International Organisation of the Francophonie (OIF), which represents 88 countries and regions where French is a customary language.

Today, in addition to France’s Cour des comptes, the association has 42 members from four zones: European (Belgium, Switzerland and Luxembourg), American (Canada and Haiti), Arab (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Mauritania and Lebanon) and African (French-speaking sub-Saharan Africa). For more than 20 years, AISCCUF has been forging partnerships: it is an associate member of the International Organisation of Supreme Audit Institutions (INTOSAI) and contributes in particular to the work of the INTOSAI Development Initiative (IDI).

AISCUFF’s eighth General Assembly, which was held on 21 and 22 November 2018 in Niamey, Niger, was an opportunity for the Association to reaffirm its dynamism. The President of Côte d’Ivoire’s Cour des comptes, Kanvaly Diomandé, was elected President of the Association for the next three years. Didier Migaud, First President of France’s Cour des comptes, is its permanent Secretary-General, and Philippe Roland, First President of Belgium’s Cour des comptes, is its Treasurer.

Many of the SAIs that are members of AISCCUF share the French jurisdictional model as ‘courts of accounts’. For this reason, the Association is particularly involved in this issue, both internally by offering several training courses on the subject and externally by promoting jurisdictional activities on an international scale.

Activities to support capacity building

Since it was founded, AISCCUF has organised many multilateral meetings with the aim of providing continuous training for its members and encouraging them to share experiences, as well as to encourage dialogue and disseminate best practices. These events are held each year in one of the Association’s member countries.

For instance, in May 2016, France’s Cour des comptes, with the help of its Moroccan counterpart, organised a training course in Rabat that was attended by nearly 90 officials from 22 member SAIs. The four-day event, which was supported by the UNDP Dakar Public Finance and Strategy Cluster, focused on the transposition of public-finance transparency directives that had been adopted by the members of UEMOA, the West African Economic and Monetary Union (see page 142 of this issue of the ECA Journal), and CEMAC, the Central African Economic and Monetary Community.

The themes of SAI independence, communication and capacity building served as the basis for good-practice workshops, round tables and experience-sharing sessions. The participants issued two statements containing:

  • a declaration aiming at political advocacy to stress out the needs of the SAIs of the AISCCUF. This document was aimed to be disseminated to local authorities and international bodies
  • five recommendations on how to combat irregularities and mismanagement, a subject that is of primary concern to AISCUFF’s (jurisdictional) SAIs.

An essential part of the organisational DNA of the French-speaking SAI community is striving to make correct and efficient use of INTOSAI professional standards. To this end, France’s Cour des comptes, as Secretary-General of AISCCUF, organised a seminar in June 2017 on the challenges of the new ISSAIs. The event, which was hosted in Dakar by Senegal’s Cour des comptes, was attended by more than 50 participants from 19 AISCCUF countries.

The course focused on those standards that concern core business, i.e. ethics (ISSAI 30), compliance audit (ISSAI 4000) and performance audit (ISSAI 3000). It also addressed the issue of combining ISSAIs for management control, and guidelines for evaluating public policies.

AISCCUF recently convened in Niamey on 21 and 22 November 2018, when it held its 8th General Assembly. The event enabled those present to discuss the audit of public-private partnerships and to adopt a work programme for the next three years. The new programme includes four new seminars on following up recommendations, auditing public debt and auditing sustainable development objectives, as well as a new meeting of the TOP Congress (see below) on SAI communication, the aim being to build on the momentum gained in Abidjan by bringing together young SAI auditors.

Youth at the forefront of the Francophone network

‘When I look at young people, I realise that they will be tomorrow what I am today.’
Kanvaly Diomandé, President of Côte d’Ivoire’s Cour des comptes.

AISCCUF sees particular value in training young auditors from French-speaking SAIs so that they can take concrete, effective action in the long term. In this spirit, France’s and Côte d’Ivoire’s Cours des comptes, with assistance from Portugal’s Tribunal de Contas, organised the first edition of AISCCUF’s ‘TOP Congress’ (TOP stands for tonic, operational and performant), which was held in Abidjan in June 2018. This event, which was inspired by the European ‘Yes Congress,’ brought together 48 people under the age of 45 with less than five years’ seniority in their respective institutions (i.e. 22 different SAIs).

The congress also provided an opportunity to debate four major themes of particular importance to SAIs:

  • Communication: the objective was to bring SAIs closer to the public, physically and through the media or digital communication. Some of the ideas put forward were systematic open days, effective digital communication, targeting the public, and audit topic thoughtfully;
  • Ethics: the workshop dealt with gifts from auditees, auditors’ relatives as auditees, and discretion of the SAI members in personal communication beyond work. Suggestions put forward included systematically sounding out senior members of the organisation;
  • Relations with Parliament: some of the pitfalls discussed were reports that are too technical or no longer relevant. Proposed solutions were to strengthen links between institutions and to organise training for MPs on the use of the SAIs’ work;
  • Innovation: proposals emerged in three areas: programming, control procedures and work monitoring. Implementing the digital transition ideas that were proposed would involve audit planning that was closer to citizens and better communication on audit reports, e.g. in the form of videos.
Delphine Silué, Young member of the Ivory Coast Court of Account AISCCUF Top Congress — Abidjan — July 2018. Source: French Cour des comptes.

The congress featured inclusive workshops and role-playing exercises, where auditors provided real-life case-studies so that participants could discuss all four themes.

Feedback from participants showed that the first ‘TOP Congress’ was a resounding success. Delphine Silué, an official from Côte d’Ivoire’s Cour des comptes, said: ‘As young people, we were able to see the extent of the responsibility that lies before us.’ In her view the seminar encouraged young auditors to learn from our predecessors who will soon be retiring. (…) We need to ensure that, as their successors, we will be up to the job.’

Kanvaly Diomandé, AISCUFF’s President , closed the TOP congress on an optimistic note ‘Youth is the source of all hope, dynamism and innovation. You are our future, and we have faith in you.’ By developing a network of young people, through congresses but also through its website and social media presence, AISCCUF is striving to be a forward-looking association that aims to strengthen its members’ capacities by using a variety of resources and media.

France’s Cour des comptes, as Secretary-General of AISCCUF, designs, prepares and organises, the conferences and seminars cited above, contributing significantly to capacity building for French-speaking SAIs. In addition, it invites young auditors from member SAIs to the twice-yearly welcome and training sessions it holds for its own new recruits.

Cooperation between SAIs with a jurisdictional role

AISCUFF’s capacity-building work specifically includes a broad component dedicated to the SAIs’ jurisdictional work. This topic is rarely addressed by INTOSAI, even though it is a prerogative for the majority of French-speaking SAIs .

Historically, SAIs in the form of courts of accounts with jurisdictional powers have mainly been found in continental Europe. This model is still active in France, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece. However, it is not limited to French-speaking countries, as evidenced by the courts of accounts in North African and Sub-Saharan countries, and in Lebanon. The model is widespread in Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries, and in some countries in the Middle East (e.g. Turkey and Iran). AISCCUF also has important non-jurisdictional members (e.g. Canada, Switzerland, Romania and Vietnam).

Swearing-in ceremony — France’s Cour des comptes January 2017. Source: French Cour des comptes.

A feature common to SAIs with jurisdictional powers is that they are themselves empowered to sanction managers of public funds. These SAIs can hold managers of public or similar funds — be it accountants, authorising officers or anyone, legitimate or not, handling those funds — individually liable for irregularities. This power, if used properly, acts both as a deterrent and as a form of sanction.

The use of such a power meets the growing expectations of civil society and of citizens, who are increasingly dissatisfied with the vague observations and recommendations contained in many audit reports. Indeed, they expect specific consequences for wrongdoers.

Although the jurisdictional role provides a framework for many SAIs’ activities, such a role is not yet formalised by INTOSAI, and capacity-building programmes often overlook it. This is why France’s Cour des comptes supports two multilateral cooperation bodies to fill this gap:

  • Action through INTOSAI: For all ‘jurisdictional’ SAIs, it has launched an INTOSAI Forum with the support of Chile’s Contraloria General, under the aegis of the Knowledge Sharing Committee (KSC) and the working group on ‘Value and Benefits of SAIs.’ This ‘Jurisdictional Forum’, which has been active since 2015, has 34 members and observers. In 2015 , it started by collecting and comparing information and data about the jurisdictional powers and activities of every member SAI. Since 2017, the Forum has been preparing a professional statement of the fundamental principles common to jurisdictional SAIs, which it will present at the next INTOSAI Congress in Moscow in September 2019. The Forum also promoted clarification of jurisdictional powers in the plan for professionalising auditors that is led by South Africa’s SAI;
  • Action through AISCCUF: For AISCCUF SAIs, much multilateral and bilateral work covers this field. In 2016, a training session was held in Rabat on deterring mismanagement. In 2017, following a proposal by Senegal’s Cour des comptes, a course on Budgetary and Financial Discipline was held in Paris, with participants from nine different SAIs. The course covered jurisdictional powers in terms of sanctioning authorising officers/public managers in the event of irregularities involving public funds. Within the UEMOA zone (West Africa), AISCCUF finances the participation of an expert from France’s Cour des comptes to help draft, disseminate and update guides on jurisdictional activity.

The initiatives taken by both of these multilateral forums have converged successfully. Following several pilot evaluations on French-speaking SAIs, the SAI performance measurement framework (SAI PMF) developed by the IDI, appeared to take into account poorly (or wrongly) the jurisdictional dimension of SAIs.

Accordingly, following action by an AISCCUF working group of jurisdictional SAIs, a Franco-Lusophone position on this issue was submitted to AISCCUF’s members and the INTOSAI jurisdictional forum in early 2016, garnering support from the SAIs of Portugal, Italy, Canada, Romania, Turkey and Spain. A meeting with the IDI in March 2016 allowed the SAI PMF to take into account the specific features of jurisdictional SAIs by introducing specific treatment of jurisdictional activities in performance indicators and by proposing that SAIs’ independence should be measured both in relation to executive and legislative powers. The SAI PMF, which included these amendments, was adopted at the INTOSAI Congress in December 2016.

Language as an ingredient of cooperation

To conclude: AISCCUF is a cooperation platform for a large range of topics of interest to SAIs operating in French. Many examples involve professional guidance and capacity building, particularly for young auditors. However, this is not confined to Francophone multilateral bodies with French-speaking jurisdictional SAIs. For example, AISCCUF has scheduled a seminar dealing with the follow-up to SAIs’ recommendations, which is not a jurisdictional matter. By contrast, the draft jurisdictional standard that will be presented to the next INTOSAI Congress by the INTOSAI Jurisdictional Forum owes a lot to contributions by the Portuguese, Latin American and Italian SAIs.

Cooperation transcends many barriers, including those of language. However, as AISCCUF’s activities show, language can also be a vehicle for stimulating cooperation and thus promoting accountability and good government at many levels, both nationally and internationally.

Meeting of the Forum of Jurisdictional SAIs July 2018 — Santiago of Chile — Source : Contraloría general of Chile.
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.