Opinion – Weak impact

The Commission of Audit (CA) has just published a new report. Interestingly, it is a report about previous reports. What this audit exercise attempts to do is to answer a simple question: what was the impact of earlier audits? How were their recommendations taken on board by the public services involved? 

The analysis focused on a sample of ten reports, touching various services and matters. For a reference, the CA has produced close to one hundred documents since the handover. If we take aside the mandatory yearly audits to the public finances and the budget execution, that means dozens of reports looking into the activity and performance of various public services. 

We are dealing here with a fairly significant sample. These reports are taken from a total of 49 made from December 1999 until early 2017. (As a side note, be aware that the report explains the selection criteria.) The topics touched by the various probes are unrelated between them. They cover subjects as diverse as public transportation, educational subsidies, traffic fines, or workers’ benefits, to name a few. The observed services are equally diverse. 

This is a commendable exercise. Audits are carried to determine and ensure compliance, that is, to ascertain if operating procedures are following the applicable principles and norms. And when they are deficient, to establish its causes and who, if anyone, should be held accountable for it. The ultimate aim, of course, is to correct and improve the services’ implementation of the applicable regulations and increase their performance levels. 

In that sense, monitoring its effects or outcomes is a critical part of the auditing process. Therefore, this type of follow-up is an integral of the auditing process and one that ought to guarantee that audits fulfill their aims. 

The auditors checked no less than 142 specific situations. They found that in just about 93 percent of the cases, the level of implementation was “weak or partial.” The result is patently not as good as one might wish, but perhaps it is not a complete surprise. Indeed, in summarizing its findings, the report concludes that the services “did not pay much attention” to the recommendations.

Over the years, many audits showed many and, at times, quite substantial failures from one service or the other. For seemingly no fault of the Commission, one can say those conclusions seldom gave rise to disciplinary or other forms of follow-up. That alone, devalues the auditing process and diminishes accountability.