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The tragic July events in Dhaka, with a 12-hour siege and death of 20 hostages, brought home to us the risks that accompany travel to almost any part of the world today. The attack on the Holey Artisan Café in an upmarket Dhaka suburb was one of the deadliest in Bangladesh and mostly hit overseas […]


A near miss: Managing risk overseas

Posted on July 28, 2016 by

BangladeshThe tragic July events in Dhaka, with a 12-hour siege and death of 20 hostages, brought home to us the risks that accompany travel to almost any part of the world today. The attack on the Holey Artisan Café in an upmarket Dhaka suburb was one of the deadliest in Bangladesh and mostly hit overseas nationals. Horrifying to all, it was terrifying for us. The café was one of the NAO team’s favourite places to eat and a few of its members had been there just a few days before. None of us wants to contemplate the worst, but such occurrences bring home the crucial importance of risk assessment and preparation for crisis management.

When the attack happened on the night of 1-2 July, my team – part of NAO’s International Relations and Technical Co-operation team – had literally just completed a 4-year project assisting the Office of the Comptroller & Auditor General (OCAG) of Bangladesh to improve its audit procedures in accordance with the International Standards of Supreme Audit Institutions (ISSAIs).

Bangladesh OCAG

Photo: Masud Ahmed, C&AG of Bangladesh, discussing project progress with NAO and other consortium partners.

We were, of course, aware of the risk of a terrorist attack in Bangladesh, as we are in many of the places we visit. None of us want to put our lives on the line, so our risk assessment has to be taken very seriously. On the other hand, this was a very important project, where we worked with respected colleagues from OCAG to deliver six audit manuals and 24 pilot audits. As a result, our OCAG colleagues now have the capacity and commitment to implement in full the ISSAI-compliant audit methodologies shared with them by us and our consortium partners, BDO (project management and performance audit deliveries), and the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (professional training).

Deciding whether or not to work overseas involves a combination of a probability-based risk assessment and thorough preparation.

What should you do to minimise risks?

  • First and foremost, listen to the locals – our friends and counterparts in the OCAG were often our best sources of how to live and work safely in Bangladesh.
  • Consult the FCO Foreign travel advice website for information about safety, terrorism, laws, health and other issues regarding the country you’re visiting; and register for email updates.
  • Ensure every member of the team is contactable in an emergency, including phones that operate internationally and contact details easily accessible by your colleagues at home. All personnel should keep their mobiles fully charged, switched on and with them at all times while abroad.
  • Have up-to-date maps and details of work locations – ensuring copies in secure locations.
  • Get all necessary inoculations.
  • Develop contingency plans, covering 24-hour contact with your colleagues at home, emergency evacuation processes, relocation arrangements, etc.
  • Establish robust and effective security arrangements.
  • Brief all personnel and run drills and crisis exercises.
  • Greater precautions may be appropriate and advice can be found on the FCO website.

But the decision to work overseas is often a judgment call – and Bangladesh is a good example of how the risks, and therefore the decision, change.

In the autumn of 2015, two overseas nationals lost their lives in the first killings in Bangladesh to be claimed by so-called ‘Islamic State’. One, an Italian, died close to the hotel where the NAO team was then staying, in Gulshan. Shortly after, a Japanese man lost his life in another part of Bangladesh.

Chicken vendorIn light of this unexpected escalation of the risk, the NAO team in Dhaka was immediately brought back to the UK while we re-evaluated the risk and waited until the position in Bangladesh became clearer. When these killings were followed by a few months of calm, the NAO team returned. But we used a more secure hotel, our staff had instructions to stay in the hotel in the evenings and weekends, and the OCAG arranged appropriate security arrangements.

By the spring of 2016, with no further cases of violence against westerners, we decided to relax the precautions and went back to our old hotel and used outside restaurants at evenings and weekends (and captured this photo of the common sight of chicken vendors).

The attack on Holey Artisan Café was an unexpected and tragic escalation to the risk of working in Dhaka. It was the first time that more than one westerner was killed at the same time, and the first attack on a restaurant. If our project had continued beyond 30 June 2016 we would have had to evaluate very carefully whether the escalated risks were now worth taking.

I, personally, am keen to carry on helping developing country audit offices improve their methodologies. It is tremendously rewarding to work alongside overseas colleagues and help bring about changes that can benefit some of the poorest people in the world.

If we give up because of the terrorist attacks, then the terrorists have won. Sadly, we hear every day of these senseless attacks, all over the world. However, although we must not let these attacks stop us, we need to take reasonable precautions and have effective risk management procedures in place to mitigate the risks to our own and our colleagues’ safety.

We would love to hear your comments. Please also feel free to contact us if you would like to discuss the issues raised here or any aspect of our international work.
Bob Shambler

About the author: Bob Shambler led the Bangladesh project. He has worked in the NAO’s International Relations and Technical Co-operation team since his return in 2005 from a two year secondment to HM Treasury. Bob joined the NAO in 1987 from university and has worked on a range of financial and performance audit teams.


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4 responses to “A near miss: Managing risk overseas”

  1. Michael David says:

    Great blog – and incredibly brave and important work, sharing NAO’s auditing expertise across the globe.

    • Bob Shambler says:

      Thank you for your kind words, Michael. We are very happy, and privileged, to be able to share our experience internationally. We have some risks to manage, but many of the audit offices we work with face great challenges on a daily basis, as discussed in our earlier post Think global, act local.
      Bob Shambler

  2. momin says:

    Nice blog. This is very sad new about Bangladesh.

    • Bob Shambler says:

      Thanks for your comment, Hotel 71. I welcome your feedback. There is a risk of such incidents not just in Bangladesh but in many other countries also, so I suggest it is not just sad news for Bangladesh but sad news worldwide. My opinion is that we shouldn’t stop going about our normal business, but we should plan our activities carefully to mitigate the risks. Bob Shambler

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