Interview with AfDB Governance and Financial Reforms Director, Gabriel Negatu: “Good governance underpins sustainable development and poverty reduction”
A workshop on the "Challenges and Opportunities for Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs) in Africa" took place from April 28-30 in Tunis. Organized by the Bank Group in collaboration with the African Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions (AFROSAI), the workshop was designed to help participants share lessons and experiences on challenges audit offices face and opportunities available to them in efforts aimed at fostering integrity and checking corruption in the management of public resources. To help our readers gain a better understanding of the issues discussed during the workshop, Bank in Action, the AfDB’s internal electronic newsletter, spoke to the Director of Governance and Financial Reforms, Gabriel Negatu.
Question: Can you explain to our readers what the African Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions (AFROSAI) stands for?
Answer: The African Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions (AFROSAI) is the association of audit offices in Africa. They are called "supreme audit institutions" because they occupy the highest echelons of financial control and integrity systems on the continent. At the international level, the audit offices of UN member countries are grouped within the International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions (INTOSAI). The objective of this international body is to promote harmonized standards and codes of best practices in government auditing and financial management.
At the regional level, AFROSAI is the continent’s professional umbrella organization which aims at: (i) promoting the exchange of ideas, knowledge and experiences between African auditors-general in areas relevant to their work, (ii) promoting the training and specialization of staff in charge of technical audit tasks, and (iii) promoting the standardization of principles, procedures and terminology in public finance auditing with a view to achieving African regional integration. AFROSAI is organized in three language sub-groups: the Arabic sub-group (ARABOSAI), the English sub-group (AFROSAI-E), and the French sub-group (AFROSAI-F).
Question: What are the objectives of the April 2008 Meeting in Tunis?
Answer: The purpose of the meeting was to help participants share lessons and experiences on challenges and opportunities faced by audit offices in efforts aimed at fostering integrity and checking corruption in the management of public resources. Audit offices have a key role to play in the struggle for greater transparency and accountability in the management of public resources. In its efforts to better serve its members, AFROSAI has, with the support of the Bank, recently developed its first Strategic Plan and Implementation Action Plan. As part of validation and dissemination of this important document, AFROSAI members discussed the organization’s future strategic plan.
At the same time, the AfDB and the World Bank are, in the spirit of the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, developing a joint strategy to support and strengthen auditors-general in Africa. This strategy will strengthen synergies between the two institutions, as well as between other donors and partners, in order to facilitate harmonized approaches and interventions based on comparative advantages and added value. We would, as such, like to encourage other development partners to follow suit and better coordinate and harmonize their support. The conference did emphasize that the international community needed to send a consistent message to African countries on the importance of strengthening audit offices, parliaments and the civil society in order to promote greater financial accountability.
This workshop, therefore, offered an additional opportunity to explore concrete possibilities of cooperation among and between donors and African audit offices. The three-day forum was organized on the following themes: (i) the role of supreme audit institutions in increasing transparency and accountability in Africa; (ii) the role of donors in supporting supreme audit institutions in Africa; and (iii) AFROSAI Governing Board’s internal discussions.
Question: It has been observed that AFROSAI comprises professionals from Anglophone, Francophone and Lusophone countries with different audit systems. How did the conference deal with such a fundamental issue?
Answer: The financial control architecture of African countries reflects both the public financial management systems and traditions of the former colonial powers, and changes introduced over the years. Three broad groups have emerged in Africa: the French-based system in Francophone countries; the British-based system in Anglophone countries; and the Portuguese model in Lusophone countries.
A key message that we conveyed during the conference was that there was a need to change perspectives and go beyond these formal categories. Institutions cannot be exported, they must grow from within and adapt to the specific challenges of African countries. The challenges faced by regional member countries (RMCs) of the Bank Group are broadly similar and, notwithstanding the legal status of the comptroller, all control is founded on similar tasks and responsibilities that need to be carried out. Ensuring that audit functions comply with internationally accepted rules, regulations and standards common to all control activities would be essential for performance evaluation in terms of efficiency and effectiveness of public services. Consequently, audit offices operating under various, but not different, systems would gain by sharing their experiences and learning from their peers.
I believe that improving an audit office’s effectiveness in a given country is not a question of model change, but that of optimizing its performance within a given context. Every democracy is based on a balance of powers, a system of checks and balances, and the fair use of public finances is the anchor to such a balance. A country’s audit office plays a crucial role in that regard, but it does so in concert with the nation’s other core institutions of accountability and transparency.
Question: Given persistent governance challenges on the continent, in what ways can the AfDB help AFROSAI accomplish its mandate?
Answer: First, let me remind you again that good governance underpins sustainable development and poverty reduction. There is a general consensus that the quality of financial governance is a key determinant of development effectiveness. Indeed, Africa is crafting a home-grown agenda for good financial governance. The Bank is playing a key role to help crystallise this agenda.
Second, ensuring integrity in public finances is a key challenge. Audit offices are one of the main pillars of integrity; they play a key role in promoting efficiency, transparency and accountability for public resources. They have a vital role in holding governments to account for their stewardship of public funds and in helping ensure the transparency of government operations.
The Bank is positioning itself to better respond to the needs of Supreme Audit Institutions. The Bank’s new Governance Strategic Directions and Action Plan for 2008-2010 soon to be approved by the Board, underscores the need to scale-up donor support to audit offices in Africa in a more coherent and coordinated manner.
Also, the Bank is already supporting audit offices throughout Africa in a variety of ways, including through projects designed to strengthen their institutional human capacities. Recent reviews of Bank budget support and institutional strengthening projects revealed that support to external audit constitutes a central pillar of its work on financial governance.
We used the workshop to discuss the orientation of the joint WB and AfDB strategy to support and strengthen SAIs in Africa. This strategy will strengthen synergies between the WB and ADB, as well as other donors and international institutions, to facilitate harmonized approaches based on each institution’s mandate, comparative advantage, and added value.
Question: What were the outcomes of the meeting?
Answer: By bringing relevant stakeholders and main partners around the table, the workshop gave us an opportunity to have fruitful discussions towards achieving the following: a consensus on current challenges faced by audit offices in Africa and a validation of AFROSAI’s action plan; experience sharing and peer learning among participants; an agreement on how the donor community can best support audit offices on the continent by developing harmonized engagement strategies, and the identification of concrete opportunities for cooperation and partnership between audit offices and development partners.