Opening remarks by Angel Gurría,
Brasília, 3 November 2015
Excellencies, Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen, good afternoon.
I am delighted to open this international seminar on good practices and the role of external control. We are here today because we share a common cause: better governance for better lives. And, today, we have an excellent opportunity to reflect on the vital role of supreme audit institutions – or SAIs – in achieving this goal.
The OECD has worked closely with the Tribunal de Contas da União (TCU) for many years, and I am pleased to report that we have just signed a new multi-year agreement that will further strengthen our collaboration. The TCU not only plays a crucial role in Brazil, but has taken on the mantle of regional leadership as chair of the Organization of Latin American and Caribbean Supreme Audit Institutions (OLACEFs). Today’s seminar, bringing together SAIs from across the world is testament to its global leadership.
To inform your deliberations, we are proud to launch a joint OECD-TCU report Supreme Audit Institutions and Good Governance: Oversight, Insight and Foresight at a difficult time for policy makers. This report was truly an international endeavour. We partnered with 10 leading SAIs from 4 continents, to gather evidence on how SAIs are assessing policies and their outcomes in line with international good practice.
Let’s zoom out for a moment, to survey the landscape and consider exactly why this is such an important issue right now. In Brazil, and across the OECD, citizens have rarely trusted their governments less as policymakers grapple with pressing economic challenges. At the same time, public finances are under pressure while citizens’ expectations for public service delivery and open government are higher than ever.
One way to help restore citizens’ confidence in public institutions is to ensure that scarce resources are used in ways that maximize value for money and deliver results. To fulfil this role effectively, they also need reliable evidence on what policy instruments and programmes work, and which do not. As Albert Einstein once said: “Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; and everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted”. This means the way we collect, evaluate and use this evidence needs to be upgraded.
So, how can we ensure that the evidence we have is actually useful for decision-makers tasked with designing and implementing policies in a complex world. In other words, how can we better link evidence with outcomes? And, how do we calibrate policies to maximise impact and value for money? For our public institutions, and for SAIs in particular, perhaps we need to look to Darwin for the answer: “constant evolution in the face of changing circumstances.”
The evidence shows that SAIs’ traditional compliance and financial audits remain a critical component of their annual programmes. This is important, and SAIs are the first to acknowledge this. But, gone are the days where SAIs concentrated solely on their oversight function. As the subtitle of our joint publication suggest: Insight and Foresight are also proving useful. The trend, to which TCU is also contributing, is clearly towards a role for SAIs that focuses on broader good governance aims that go beyond traditional auditing.
Today, they are drawing on expertise gained in individual audits to provide a more horizontal and systemic view of how government is performing: better insight into how policies affect outcomes in the present, and foresight on how policies can translate into better lives in the future.
Supreme Audit Institutions are also reaching out not only into different policy fields but across traditional boundaries. SAIs are more outward looking, as evidenced by the collaboration among the 192 members of the International Organisation of Supreme Audit Institutions (INTOSAI). Domestically, SAIs are reaching out to cooperate across levels of government. We see increasing co-ordination between audit institutions at the Federal and subnational levels – here in Brazil, for example, and in other countries like Mexico and Morocco.
Despite recent progress, our joint OECD-TCU report shows that such evolution isn’t finished yet! There is more to be done to ensure that audit work helps us to connect the dots between evidence, policy-making and results. Now is the time to go further, and to bring stakeholders together to engage in an open, constructive dialogue on how best SAIs can support a whole-of-government approach to policymaking, implementation and evaluation.
As we gather here today to discuss the path ahead, and SAI’s evolution to a ‘higher state of existence’, let me share with you five key considerations from the joint OECD-TCU report.
First, agenda setting is essential. In some cases, insight and foresight are ad-hoc activities, often at the request of the legislature or other stakeholders. Other SAIs have embraced insight and foresight functions in a more strategic manner, recognising citizens’ needs and policy challenges. In the United States, for example, they have intentionally based their work on common and critical themes – including transparency, risk-management and avoiding duplication across government. Going forward, there may be scope for foresight practitioners in SAI’s to link in with the work of the OECD’s Government Foresight Community, a network of experts working on foresight in governments around the world.
Second, clear cross-government communication is crucial. Centres of Governments, who steer the delivery of major policies, need robust, objective evidence on which to assess progress, identify bottlenecks and measure results and impact. Strengthening the dialogue between the Centres of Government and Supreme Audit Institutions therefore presents a real opportunity for a joined-up approach to delivering our goals. But, strengthening this link requires that SAI’s work is clear, accessible and engaging.
Third, get innovative! Chile’s General Comptroller has developed a GEO-Portal, for example, which stores information on the investment of resources in public works. It lets citizens track online, and in real time, projects in their region. This is the citizen-driven accountability we need in the 21st century!
Fourth, tackle challenges strategically. SAIs face constraints in their capacities to offer insight and foresight, but these often have more to do with internal limitations, such as a lack of resources or skills, than external ones. We know that SAIs have had to make some strategic trade-offs and decisions in order to provide a broader perspective. The report provides such considerations for SAIs to be more aware and prepared. Prepared to make changes internally in order to maintain relevance, and aware of how their activities impact other governance actors.
Fifth, keep stepping up the engagement with the public. Citizens, when asked, say that they trust Supreme Audit Institutions because of their constitutional independence and their role as custodians of the public purse. Making audits more accessible will help further strengthen this bond of trust between public institutions and citizens. The TCU has been pro-active in this area by making available online lists of people disqualified from working in the Federal public administration.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today’s discussion is part of a broader debate about how better public governance can drive better public policies – what we called during our Public Governance Ministerial in Helsinki last week “a new vision for the public service”. SAIs can play a critical role in this new vision. The stakes are high, and the challenges many. But, the OECD looks forward to continuing our work with the TCU and SAIs across the world to make good governance the new normal. As I said at the outset, our shared ultimate goal is better governance for better lives.