Facing SAI Challenges: Towards Openness

Main challenges of SAIs to fulfill their mission and how can openness contribute to it?

In performing their duties, SAIs face several challenges which may undermine their capacity to guarantee the transparent functioning of the state and governmental accountability.

SAIs may be exposed to undue political influence, which is deepened when they lack guarantees of independence and functional autonomy, and this can undermine their ability to successfully achieve their mission.



In order to effectively accomplish their tasks, SAIs must be independent of the audited entity and are protected against outside influence. While some constraints have been overcome by constitutional guarantees and legal amendments, independence is still a matter of concern for most SAIs.


Ensuring compliance by the Executive

SAIs may experience constraints in ensuring that government will address audit observations, which will ultimately lead to ineffective action upon recommendations intended to improve state management and service delivery. Even in judicial systems, impunity can delay corrective sanctions, undermine SAI work and even erode its reputation.

How can openness respond to political challenges?

As beneficiaries of governmental interventions -thus, of SAI mission-, citizens are key allies to raise public awareness of SAI work, enforcing its credibility and mostly, its impact.

  • CSOs can publize SAI recommendations and any possible inability or unwillingness to implement them.
  • By opening up and making their work visible to all stakeholders -mainly citizens-, SAIs can enhance understanding and support, thus building a reputation for being a reliable source of information regarding public management, gaining social legitimacy and ultimately, strengthening their independence towards increased governmental accountability.
  • Citizens and CSOs can monitor transparency and merit-based selection in SAI designation processes, put pressure on the legislative when unilateral and unjustified dismissal by the Executive attempts to weaken SAIs´ ability to develop their work autonomously, and raise public awareness campaigns when SAI independence is compromised.

Narrow mandates and SAI institutional design can undermine their capacity to promote comprehensive and effective oversight. Ensuring compliance of audit observations is one of the main challenges SAIs face.

How can openness respond to institutional challenges?

Institutional challenges often derive in weak impact of SAI work. Either due to impunity in judicial models, or to lack of support from Legislatures in Westminster models, the existence of effective follow-up mechanisms on audit recommendations is fundamental for accomplishing SAIs´ mission. Citizens and other stakeholders can actually become partners to help SAIs deal with these limitations.

  • CSOs can produce evidence base for inefficiency and malpractices to SAIs and they can include them in audit criteria and audit plan
  • As long as audit reports are published and thoroughly disseminated, many stakeholders can take the lead to push for increased governmental accountability and responsiveness. CSOs, groups of citizens, research centers, among other actors in the public arena, can use these reports to monitor the effective addressing of SAI recommendations, and may build up on this information to trigger investigations by other control agencies or by the Judiciary.
  • Citizens and other stakeholders can advocate for reform in the public sphere so as to empower SAIs by gaining resources and capabilities to perform VFM audits, showing how valuable they are to improving service delivery and development policies.

Achieving efficiency in SAI work relies on several factors, both internal and external. Resources, abilities to develop VFM audits and unrestricted access to auditee´s information are critical to enhancing improved performance in oversight duties and ensuring impact of SAI observations.

How can openness respond to technical challenges?

Low performance may discredit SAI work, undermining their capacity to develop it efficiently and to ensure accountability, which is in the core of their mission. When SAIs open up and show the value of their work to citizens -and how it facilitates improvement in the public sector-, they can find partners to back their processes and enrich them.

  • As SAIs engage with different stakeholders and gain visibility in the public arena, the costs of denying information increase for audited agencies, since their credibility may be eroded. Therefore, conceiving these external actors as allies can contribute to put pressure on state agencies so that they deliver the information that is required.
  • Various examples show that CSOs can assist SAIs in investigating, monitoring and evaluating state-funded community programs -especially in performance audit, where SAIs in developing countries are severly challenged-.
  • Citizens view can enrich SAI perspectives and methodologies when developing audits, especially VFM ones, and thus contribute to nurturing human capacity in oversight agencies.

Enhancing governmental accountability and effective impact of SAI work calls for positioning oversight institutions in the center of the scene, but most often they lack channels of communication and articulation with other stakeholders who benefit from -and can work upon- SAI products.

  • Primary Targets
  • 1. Public Accounts Committee
  • 2. National Legislature
  • 3. Citizens of the Country
  • 4. Auditees/Government Institutions
  • 5. International Partners
  • 6. Media/Electronic & Print
  • Secondary Targets
  • 1. Central and Local Government
  • 2. Internal Audit Institutions
  • Others
  • 1. Accounting Community
  • 3. INTOSAI
  • 4. Judiciary
  • 5. Non-Government organizations

How can openness respond to communication challenges?

Strategies and policies coordinating the efforts of Legislatures, citizens, media and other oversight entities can indeed contribute to deal with the main challenges SAIs actually face and enable them deploy their full potential and effectiveness of their action. Making their work visible is a prerequisite for successful engagement. Building relationships with these stakeholders can reinforce SAIs´credibility, legitimacy, independence, and can even nurture SAI processes and operations.

  • As long as audit reports are effectively communicated and disseminated, many stakeholders can build up on this information to trigger investigations by other control agencies or by the Judiciary.
  • Regular contact and explanation of the core aspects of audit reports to journalists can enable better communication to the wide audience and help enhance visibility of SAI work, fostering governmental exposure and ultimately, accountability.
  • Interaction with citizens can improve SAI operations. As the ultimate beneficiaries of public policies and services, citizens can provide valuable information regarding state functioning: they can identify areas of mismanagement, take part in monitoring governmental transparency and even monitor compliance with audit recommendations.
  • Media investigations can add significant value to audit processes, widening the scope of SAI work by providing evidence on possible fraud.

Evidence shows that SAI openness to citizens provides an effective vehicle for responding to these critical challenges.

Learn more about the enabling environment, instruments, mechanisms and costs of SAI engagement from the Stocktaking Report developed by OCDE.

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INTOSAI (2013): “Beijing Declaration”.

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INTOSAI (2010):“Principles of transparency and accountability”,ISSAI 20.

INTOSAI (2010):“Principles of Transparency and Accountability - Principles and Good Practices”, ISSAI 21.

INTOSAI (2007): “The Mexico Declaration on SAI Independence“, ISSAI 10.

OLACEFS (2009): “Asuncion Declaration”.

INTOSAI (1977): “Lima Declaration”.

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