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Source: Small Island Developing States

23 August 2019: The UN Department of Social and Economic Affairs (DESA) and the International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions (INTOSAI) Development Initiative (IDI) have released the report of a joint workshop that took stock of three years of experience in conducting performance audits of governments’ SDG preparedness in over 70 countries, and how to move from auditing preparedness to auditing implementation of the SDGs.

The Supreme Audit Institution (SAI) Leadership and Stakeholder workshop on ‘Supreme Audit Institutions Making a Difference: Auditing the Implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)’ was organized by IDI and DESA, and took place from 22-23 July 2019, at UN Headquarters in New York, US, with over 200 participants. It followed two similar meetings organized in 2017 and 2018.

Summarizing elements discussed during the workshop, the report notes that findings and recommendations of preparedness audits have been taken on board by several governments to advance SDG implementation and follow-up. On the impacts of SAIs, it states that:

  • Audits can help advance gender equality. For instance, 17 SAIs and one sub-national audit office from Latin America and Spain conducted audits of SDG preparedness with a focus on SDG 5 (gender equality);
  • In some countries, such as Brazil and Palestine, governments have considered SAI inputs in the voluntary national review (VNR) process, while in other countries such as Austria, civil society groups use audit reports to pressure governments to implement audit recommendations, “thereby increasing accountability;” and
  • The timely publication of SDG audit reports and strengthening communication and follow-up to audit findings are critical for SAIs’ contributions to SDG implementation and follow-up. To this end, SAI Peru produces short videos of approximately 10% of its audit reports using widely accessible language, and disseminates them via social media.

The report identifies coherence as a major challenge for auditing the SDGs, as evaluating the connections among SDG targets requires auditing multiple entities and assessing trade-offs and synergies. Therefore, there is a need for multidimensional indicators. It also notes gaps in data availability and quality.

On additional audit challenges, the report outlines that:

  • SDG audits have distinctive characteristics, such as a whole-of-government approach, accounting for the principles of coherence, integration, inclusiveness, participation and measurement, and it can be difficult to clearly define or conceptualize them;
  • Some SAIs have expressed concerns about a lack of follow-up to their recommendations and a lack of recourse in such cases;
  • Auditing sustainable development is complex, given its long-term nature in contrast with short-term political cycles that focus on immediate impact. Among other cases, the report highlights challenges related to sustainability reporting in the EU, with no overall EU strategy on the SDGs up to 2030, and no reporting on the contribution of the EU budget and policy to achieving the SDGs; and
  • There may be a need to change organizational culture or mindsets and break down silos, integrate multidisciplinary audit teams, and conduct systemic evaluations within SAIs.

On collaboration opportunities, the report indicates that SAI India, as Chair of INTOSAI’s Knowledge Sharing Committee (KSC), suggested forming a community of practice to reflect on strategic challenges related to SDG audits. It adds that SAI Portugal will organize the first EUROSAI-AFROSAI seminar that will focus on SDG implementation, and that the Pacific Association of SAIs (PASAI) plans to launch a communications strategy to better reach the region’s young population and other stakeholders to enhance their understanding of the value and relevance of SAIs’ work around the SDGs. Among other initiatives, the World Bank is working on an annual global assessment of SAI independence, and the INTOSAI Congress (INCOSAI) that will take place in September 2019 in Moscow, Russian Federation, will focus on the themes of information technologies and the role of SAIs in the achievement of national priorities and Goals, the report says.

The workshop was part of the ‘Auditing SDGs’ capacity development programme, that seeks to support SAIs in conducting audits of the SDGs according to the International Standards of SAIs (ISSAI). The programme was established in 2016 by IDI in collaboration with the INTOSAI KSC, and includes DESA as one of its partners.

In its first phase, the programme supported SAIs to conduct performance audits of the preparedness of governments to implement the SDGs, for which results are synthesized in the publication titled, ‘Are Nations Prepared for Implementation of the 2030 Agenda? Supreme Audit Institutions’ Insights and Recommendations,’ which was launched during the workshop. The publication provides an overview of insights, recommendations and impact of SDG preparedness audits, as well as experiences, challenges and lessons learned from more than 70 SAIs.

According to the report, the workshop’s discussion will inform the second phase of the IDI-KSC ‘Auditing SDGs’ programme, in particular the development of a model to audit the implementation of selected SDGs and targets at the national level. It will also inform initiatives to support SDG implementation, follow-up and review undertaken by INTOSAI, its SAI members, and UN SDG follow-up processes. [Workshop report] [INTOSAI story] [Meeting website] [Publication: Are Nations Prepared for Implementation of the 2030 Agenda? Supreme Audit Institutions’ Insights and Recommendations]

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