Posted on January 12, 2017 by David Goldsworthy
After 22 years with the NAO, David Goldsworthy, Head of International Relations and Technical Co operation is retiring. David has led a team which has delivered around 100 projects in more than 50 countries over the last 17 years. He looks back over how the world of audit has changed and reveals some of his personal highlights.
What’s the link between the uprising in Kiev in February 2014 and the NAO? The answer: a public call for reduced corruption. Soon after the uprising in Maidan (Independence) Square, a poll showed that what Ukrainians wanted most – after peace in the East – was reduced corruption. The Ukraine Chamber of Accounts responded to the challenge and invited us to help them produce a new audit law and to begin implementing international auditing standards.
I was similarly fortunate to start discussions on ways the NAO could help the modernisation of public audit in Myanmar. In the new capital, Naypyidaw, the audit office, along with the parliament and all main parts of government, sits alongside a highway with five lanes in each direction and barely a car in sight, farmers steering ox ploughs through the fields, and women in conical hats cutting the grass alongside the roads. The somewhat surreal location seemed apt for Myanmar’s momentous changes.
Helping countries’ national audit offices to introduce modern, internationally-compliant auditing is one of the most satisfying types of work I’ve been involved in. It’s more than just a technical process. We have to have a good understanding of the socio-political context to be able to provide practical guidance and support to help Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs) strengthen their institutional capacity and financial oversight abilities. For example, I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post, Think global, act local, my particular delight in playing a role in helping the audit office in Uganda grow and develop over the last decade, in challenging conditions, to become one of the strongest audit institutions in Sub-Saharan Africa.
While working with audit offices around the world I’ve also had many memorable experiences seeing important political events unfold. One that stands out was when attending a meeting in Brasilia at the time the Brazilian Audit Office rejected the government’s accounts, when the crowds of demonstrators with drums and banners outside caused us to exit through the back garage.
I’ve been immensely privileged to have had this role and seen so much change in our international work. Twenty years ago we were mainly focused on members of the EU, particularly new members as the Union expanded. Now many ‘new’ European SAIs are themselves providing technical support to other audit offices. Only ten years ago I was in the Latvian capital, Riga, advising on the setting up of an international unit within the audit office. I’m thrilled that now we’ve partnered with Latvia to provide support in Vietnam.
Speed dating auditors
The idea of speed dating an auditor may not excite you but I was delighted to have the opportunity to ‘speed date’ other national audit delegations at the December 2016 XXII International Congress of Supreme Audit Institutions, an event held every three years. Together with one of the NAO’s Executive Leaders, I met about half of the 140 delegations. We shared NAO expertise and experience – such as our work auditing the Olympics – and learnt from others’ work, including the US Government Accountability Office expertise in the audit of nuclear waste disposal. We also heard how things have progressed in projects on which we’ve previously worked, and shared the many international audit guides and publications we’ve helped develop in recent years.
A key role of the Congress was to ratify new standards, rules and processes, including a tool for assessing the capacity of audit offices – the SAI Performance Measurement Framework (see www.idi.no). The adoption of such a tool sends out a valuable message of support for international efforts to strengthen audit offices. While the tool can be used by all SAIs, it’s particularly useful for audit offices trying to modernise in countries with wide-spread fraud and corruption and state-capture by elites.
Monitoring UN Sustainable Development Goals
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) came into force on 1 January 2016. Although they’re not legally binding, governments are expected to take ownership and establish national frameworks for the achievement of the 17 Goals – and INTOSAI, the International Organisation of Supreme Audit Institutions, aims to play a key leading role in auditing progress. Goal 16 is particularly relevant to audit offices as it seeks to “promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels” (see more on the UN SDG website).
One aim of the December Congress was to discuss how INTOSAI should achieve its objective of becoming an authoritative independent voice on the challenges facing the global community in planning and implementing the SDGs and reporting on their progress. Audit offices recognise that they will be limited in their ability to contribute to improving governance, transparency and accountability and helping ensure the SDGs are achieved if they don’t work in partnership with others also committed to change. The final Abu Dhabi Declaration, which the NAO helped to draft, is an important statement by the world’s audit offices and commits INTOSAI to engaging more effectively with civil society organisations, business, and professional associations, as well as parliaments and donor agencies.
Forging partnership in this way has been core to the way I’ve tried to take forward the NAO’s international work. Working with parliaments and audit offices across the Commonwealth, I was able to get the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Sri Lanka in 2013 to commit to increasing the independence of audit offices. Following this, we went on to establish the Commonwealth Association of Public Accounts Committee – an organisation committed to improving the effectiveness of parliamentary financial oversight bodies, and something which the UK Parliament has now joined.
I have also seen links to international development agencies grow much stronger. From initial meetings in London we have seen formal cooperation arrangements between INTOSAI and donors, such as the World Bank and the UK Department for International Development, resulting in increased funding to help strengthen audit offices globally and better sharing of best practices. The latter includes a series of publications now available in most major European languages, as well as Chinese and Russian (www.intosaicbc.org and www.idi.no).
Governance failures can lead to terrorism, health pandemics, mass migration, endemic corruption and more – problems that quickly spread beyond borders and can have a direct impact on the UK. The NAO’s international work to help national audit offices strengthen that governance makes a small, but important contribution to helping combat these waves at their source. We are not obliged to do this work. But despite austerity, we continue to do it because of this importance and our commitment to strong systems of oversight and accountability.
I have been very lucky to have been entrusted with stewardship of the NAO’s international programme. I pass on the baton to my colleague Kevin Summersgill wishing him as much satisfaction and success as I have enjoyed.
About the author: David Goldsworthy has been Head of the NAO’s International Relations and Technical Co-operation since 2000, until retiring in January 2017. He joined the NAO in 1995 after 20 years working in education and evaluation in Uganda, Australia and México. He spent 5 years as a VfM auditor before moving to the NAO’s international programme.
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