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Safeguarding the Independence of Supreme Audit Institutions: A Resource Kit for Civil Society Organisations

Governments are entrusted with the power to collect, allocate and spend public resources. Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs) provide a check on governments’ use of these public resources through regular audits of government budgets, revenues and expenditures. Through their investigations, reporting and recommendations on the use of public resources, SAIs are a key component of any government’s integrity and accountability system.

To effectively hold governments to account on their financial activities, SAIs must be independent from the bodies they audit. Yet, evidence shows that when SAI Independence is challenged, institutional oversight activities can be impaired. A recent SAI Stocktaking Report by IDI found that SAI Independence has deteriorated in recent years, including facing challenges such as limited financial autonomy, insufficient legal protection via the unjust removal of SAI leaders, restricted access to information and a lack of ability to follow up on audit reports. Many of these trends have been exacerbated by the global pandemic, as shown by a recent IDI study on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on SAI Independence. In particular, many SAIs from lower- income countries have faced budget cuts from the executive without legislative approval, which affected their ability to hold the executive to account.

When the independence of a SAI is limited, its contribution to the fight against corruption is impeded. This can result in SAIs becoming unable to make objective assessments of the reliability of public information, of the legality of government action and of the value-for-money performance of state-run programmes. Thus, inefficiencies and misuse of public resources will go unchecked, resulting in dire consequences for citizens who rely on government services.

As such, civil society organisations (CSOs) are well- positioned to safeguard and enhance SAI Independence as a way to ensure greater transparency and accountability of public resources. CSOs play a significant role in enhancing checks and balances in democracies, and are strong supporters of the independence of oversight institutions that hold governments to account. Using various channels such as strategic litigation and press releases, CSOs have the capacity to advocate for SAI Independence whenever a threat arises. As such, we have developed this resource kit to assist CSOs to advocate for SAI Independence effectively at the global, regional and national level. The kit will also share further advocacy and assessment tools available for CSOs to engage on the topic of SAI Independence, including the SAI Independence Rapid Advocacy Mechanism (SIRAM).