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The ECA’s ‘personal’ commitment to developing global audit standards

Interview with Gerard Ross, ECA director and newly appointment member of the INTOSAI FIPP.

On 15 November 2018 Gerhard Ross, director at the ECA, was appointed member of the Forum for INTOSAI Professional Pronouncements (FIPP). FIPP is a relatively new permanent body, which was only set up in 2016 by the last congress of the International Organisation of Supreme Audit Institutions (INTOSAI) — all the more reason to find out from the new member, freshly appointed on behalf of the ECA, what the forum does and why he applied to become a member of it.

By Gaston Moonen, Directorate of the Presidency

Ensuring quality means… work

When asked to explain what the Forum for INTOSAI Professional Announcement (FIPP) actually does it quickly becomes clear how familiar Gerhard Ross is already with the subject matter. ‘What INTOSAI — and in particular the three so-called ‘INTOSAI Goal Chairs’ — wanted to create is a single entry point into the ISSAI framework. A forum of technical experts to address standard setting issues relating to the ISSAI framework. It should ensure a more uniform approval process for standards, guidelines, etc. to better ensure quality and consistency.’ He explains that standards are produced by different working groups and committees — the Professional Standards Committee (PSC), Capacity Building Committee (CBC) or Knowledge Sharing Committee (KSC) – are responsible for the allocation of resources and the timeliness of these projects. ‘When a working group has completed their work the chair of the PSC, CBC or KSC refers projects to FIPP for approval. FIPP is consulted at different stages of the process.’

‘FIPP needs to approve project proposals. The same goes for the development of the exposure draft, as FIPP needs to approve this draft before it is “exposed.” And also during the stages when comments are coming in and an endorsement version needs to be made, which FIPP needs to approve.’ This means rather intensive involvement and a procedure that is rather different, at least, from the one applied before 2014. Gerhard links this to a greater awareness within INTOSAI of the necessity of assuring consistently high quality for professional standards: ‘I think that within what are known as the ‘INTOSAI Goal Committees’ they saw differences in terms of quality, structure and drafting.’

Forum for INTOSAI Professional Pronouncements — FIPP

In 2016, INTOSAI created FIPP as a permanent forum for professional standards, after it had been operating for two years on a temporary basis. Main task of the forum are is to develop the ISSAI framework, with INTOSAI’s audit standards and guidelines, further by providing:

clearer distinction between auditing standards, other standards, guidelines, best practice documents, etc.;

clearer directions on format and quality requirements for these different categories of documents.

Such intensive involvement in the different stages can indeed mean substantial work for FIPP members. With some restraint, Gerhard confirms this: ‘There are two to three meetings per year but most of the work goes into reading, telephoning, video conferencing, etc. During the meetings you will go through different documents and discuss with other members, because if you put forward your ‘okay’ as FIPP member regarding the standard proposed, other FIPP members should have time to read and see for themselves. Some of this work inevitably will need to be done in my own time, some of it, for example the travel, during work time.’ Meetings can be held anywhere in the world. ‘I think for next year one is scheduled in Bhutan and another one in Riga. So it requires a personal commitment, but also a commitment from the ECA to enable me to do this. And I made sure of that commitment before I applied.’

An institutional and personal interest for high quality audit standards

For the ECA to have a staff member in FIPP is an honour, but not only that, according to Gerhard. ‘I think it reflects our commitment as a European public audit institution to being part of INTOSAI’s international standard setting.’ He believes the selection criteria for FIPP members relate to background and experience in this kind of work. ‘And probably also geographical balance and gender balance play a role, I guess. But I was just a candidate, and not a member of the selection board.’ He explains that Neil Usher, a now retired ECA director, is still a member of FIPP and will be until the end of 2018. ‘So the institutional interest was already there before me.’

… it requires a personal commitment, but also a commitment from the ECA to enable me to do …

Besides this institutional interest in FIPP, it is also clear that Gerhard has a personal ‘ingrained’ interest in drafting standards. ‘My personal motivation to become a candidate also originated in what I did at the ECA for a long time, well before I became a director in audit. My first job, when I came to the ECA, was developing audit manuals for the ECA. This already dates back twenty years. Together with Neil Usher and Bertrand Albugues, I was involved in developing the ECA’s audit manual and we provided relevant training to all staff.’

… it reflects our commitment as a European public audit institution to being part of INTOSAI’s international standard setting.

For Gerhard it is logical to combine his practical knowledge of audit with the theoretical framework that underpins this work. ‘I think this is useful, and working for so many years in audit has created an interest in it which I want to pursue further. And I know what Neil was doing as a member, so I have an idea of what to expect. But before I put in my candidacy I consulted with several people, and I sought the approval of the ECA Members — within the audit chamber I work in, from the ECA Member most involved in methodology work, Ms Lamarque, and the President.’

One of the tasks the ECA has within INTOSAI is being the vice-chair of the INTOSAI Professional Standards Committee (PSC). Gerhard does not see an overlap with that role. ‘The PSC is in charge of making sure the pronouncements are drafted and put forward. The FIPP’s role is to check the quality. It will be important to keep a clear separation in terms of roles.’

Cooperation to ensure quality for global purposes

In Gerhard’s view, FIPP is an important exponent of international cooperation to ensure quality in audit standards. ‘I have not worked in FIPP yet, that will only start next year. But I have worked in many international meetings where it became clear that people have different takes on different things, also because of different backgrounds and different cultures. We see this to a minor extent within the ECA. And this can also be the case in a FIPP with up to 15 members from all over the world.’ However, in his view FIPP has already shown its potential through its involvement in improving the INTOSAI Framework of Professional Pronouncements, one of INTOSAI’s strategic goals.

It is all about making sure that there are no contradictions between different elements, that it is consistent, that it is understandable.

Gerhard points out that FIPP has developed its own references, its own working procedures and drafting conventions to ensure consistency throughout the review role. ‘All for the sake of quality. It is all about making sure that there are no contradictions between different elements, that it is consistent, that it is understandable. And if INTOSAI truly wants to develop international audit standards that work globally… you need to discuss them in a global setting. And I am looking forward to contributing to that process through FIPP.’

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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