The Network of Supreme Audit Institutions of EU Candidate and Potential Candidate Countries and the European Court of Auditors (Network) identified back in 2011 at their meeting in Istanbul that a common priority was “increasing the impact of SAIs”, particularly in co-operation with the national parliaments.
This was further endorsed in November 2013 when the SAI of Montenegro hosted a Network conference on the relations between SAIs and parliaments, at which a decision was taken to develop a guidance paper. SIGMA agreed to assist the Network in developing the guidance paper
The main purpose of this guidance paper is to provide an overview of practices employed within EU and Network countries for developing relationships between SAIs and parliament drawing out the key factors that support effective relationships, identifying examples of good practice in developing and managing effective relationships with parliament, and helping in identifying opportunities for strengthening or improving the mutually beneficial working relationship with parliaments.
The overall goal is help meet the objective of increasing the impact of SAIs. to provide the Network with ideas and solutions to enhance their engagement with their respective parliaments as they continue to build their capacity to deliver audits with increasing impact.
Starting point or precondition: independent SAIs working according to international standards
Focussed on one aspect of the relationship between SAIs and parliaments, dealing with the work and reports of SAIs, to increase impact and improve the use of public resources
Not looking at things like the approval of the SAI budget or the appointment of senior management
A fundamental element in developing the paper the practical experiences of the SAIs most significantly we undertook a survey of SAIs across EU and network on how they engage with parliament, and how their respective Parliaments use their work 33 out 36 responded
We also examined publicly available information and literature websites of SAIs and parliament Research papers and documents that been prepared on the topic of SAI and parliament relations Considered the cultural, legal and political framework and other contextual factors that underpin these relationships
Examined standards and principles that are in place for SAIs and parliament ISSAI Principles of public administration PEFA Public Expenditure an financial accountability To Identify expectations for SAIs and parliaments in terms of there relationship
Considered how the practical experiences in the surveyed SAIs meet the expectations
Bringing all this together to develop the paper which describes
the expectations for both SAIs and parliaments based on Standards Principles research the factors that impact on how those expectations are met Constitutional, political, legal and organisational Statistical information on how SAIs engage with parliament Reporting practices Establishment of committees and committee practices (hearings, rapporteurs) analyses the current relationships in the SAIs surveyed to draw out good or innovative practices which meet the expectations set out the various standards and principles identified and also provides what could be described as a toolkit of good practices, linked to the various standards, for SAIs and parliaments to explore when they are looking to enhance the effectiveness of their relationships.
Expectations for SAI in development relationships with parliament. The ISSAIs along with other standards and principles provide a framework and guidance about what SAIs should or could consider when analysing the possibilities for creating and enhancing impact, and when engaging with parliament. The ISSAIs set high expectations on SAIs concerning the way they report to Parliaments about their audit work and the efforts they need to undertake to assist members of parliament to understand and use audit reports, and engage with their Parliament.
Reporting Clear from the standards that reporting to parliament – the foundation of the relationship with parliament The Right and obligation for SAIs to report to parliament at least annually this runs throughout the ISSAI, PPA and PEFA Communication the standards now make it clear that today the formal submission of reports is not sufficient for stimulating adequate follow-up and action, and for ensuring that there work has impact, and that there are greater expectations on SAIs to develop relationships with parliaments. Expectations that SAIs should communicate in a manner that: increases parliaments and other stakeholders’ knowledge and understanding of the role and responsibilities of the SAI as an independent auditor of the public sector. contributes to parliaments and other stakeholders’ awareness of the need for transparency and accountability in the public sector. ensures understanding of the SAI’s audit work and results. Follow up Expectations are also set for SAIs throughout the ISSAIs regarding follow up on their observations and findings but also on following up recommendations made by the parliament, one of its commissions, or the auditee’s governing board. Reporting performance expectations around assessing and reporting on SAIs own performance. They give the expectation that the SAI will report on their performance to parliament and other stakeholders, including their financial statements, that these reports will be subject to external audit or scrutiny, the outcomes of which are also reported to stakeholders.
the expectations set through the ISSAIs and other principles are high, and are what you would expect of SAIs in well developed countries with mature democracies. However this does not undermine their relevance to all SAIs, as they should aspire to delivering their mandate professionally and with increasing impact. And for countries with aspirations of EU accession these are the expectations they should be looking to achieve
Looking at the expectations for parliament in this relationship, Parliaments are generally sovereign in the way they deal with SAI reports,. As a result there is not the same plethora of standards or principles available to guide parliaments in the development of their arrangements for handling SAI reports or for their engagement with SAIs. Consequently, SAIs lack an authoritative set of principles they can refer to when asking parliament to pay due attention to SAI reports to enhance their impact. PEFA, PPA provide some guidance and principles Lead to two generally accepted requirement there is a formal mechanism for the parliament to consider the SAI reports, and that parliament pays due attention to the reports in seeking to hold government to account
There are very few other standards to draw on. No official standards refer to the existence of a dedicated committee dealing with SAI reports and tasked with the day-to-day communication with the SAI, let alone a parliamentary audit committee, such as a public accounts committee.
However there are a number of research papers prepared on financial oversight by parliaments. These provide further guidance on what could be considered good practice in parliamentary financial oversight. Particularly in relation to good practices specifically for parliamentary audit committees. There is a broad consensus in the literature dealing with the analysis of PACs about how they need to be organised and resourced to take full advantage of the expertise that SAIs have to offer. For example They also provide a set of commonly recommended principles about how PACs should deal with the information provided by SAIs, notably for regular audit reports.
Therefore whilst the level of clearly established principles for parliaments to follow in its scrutiny of SAI reports and engagement with SAIs is very minimal, it is clear though that as a minimum the expectation is that a parliament has formal mechanisms for considering SAI reports, and that it used to hold Government to account.. SAIs can, and should, in their communication with parliaments promote adequate parliamentary arrangements for dealing with their work and may in doing so refer to these minimum expectations, as well as good practices identified in comparative studies.
The standards and principles provide a framework for the relationship between SAIs and parliaments but there are significant differences among countries in the constitutional and legal set-up of parliaments, SAIs, government organisations and budget systems. They all influence the accountability framework and the effectiveness of working relations between SAIs and parliaments.
The guidance paper highlights some of these key contextual factors which affect shape the relationships between the SAI and parliament
SAIs have developed within the cultural, legal and political traditions of their individual countries, leading to a considerable variation in how they operate. They broadly operate under one of three models office, board or judicial models influencing whether their auditing approach has historically been from a financial or legal perspective, and although the recent developments of ISSAIs has led to more consistency there is still variety in Impact on how relationships with parliament have and will continue to develop and evolve how SAIs deliver their audits and the emphasis placed on types of audits the breadth of mandates , for example entities to be audited and frequency The type and frequency of reporting The personal relationships between the leadership and officials of the institutions is important, and in particular the relationship between the head of a SAI and the chair of the relevant parliamentary committee. Changes to individuals in those positions will have an influence on the work and impact of the SAI.
Developments in parliamentary arrangements, for example the types of committees dealing with the SAI reports, whether they are focused on only ex post scrutiny or ex ante scrutiny, Increasing role of sectoral committees
Complexity of how government is organised including the level of direct accountability of government agencies, budget and accounting systems
Finally The political environment in which SAIs operate is dynamic elections, changes in members of parliament, changes in the chairs and composition of a dedicated committee, and therefore the need for the SAI to build up new relationships. Parliamentary interest in public management issues will fluctuate
All factors potentially influencing the relationship between SAIs and parliaments. They may not directly influence the relationship between SAI and parliament, but they are likely to influence the type of audit report submitted to parliament, potentially setting varying requirements to parliament in dealing with these reports. For SAIs it is important to reflect on how these arrangements affect the effectiveness of communication and reporting lines.
The relationship between SAI and parliament is governed by a large number of factors, from the constitutional and legal setting to the personal relationship between the Head of the SAI and the speaker of parliament or the chair of the dedicated committee. Relationships between SAIs and parliaments are continuously under the influence of these factors. The ability to be flexible, adaptable and responsive to changing circumstances is necessary in order to maintain effective working relationships. This implies that SAIs and parliaments should be in constant communication with each other to assess how their relationship evolves and ensure that SAI work is followed up effectively by parliamentarians.
Given the differing circumstances between countries, it also indicates that there is not one model for effective working relationship between SAIs and parliaments. What works in one country at a given moment may not be workable in another. What is needed is a process of continuously seeking for the best under the circumstances, trying out relevant practices from other countries, and keeping in mind that ultimately the impact of SAI work and its contribution to the overall accountability system are the main objectives.
SAIs have to be free from direction or interference from parliament or government in the selection of audit issues and in the planning, programming, conducting, reporting and follow-up of their work. At the same time, however, SAIs may accommodate specific requests for investigations or audits by parliament or government. They should also ensure that stakeholders' expectations are taken into account when developing their audit programmes, and that stakeholders are engaged and their views are considered.
In practice, a variety of legal and practical arrangements allow stakeholders to request an audit or to have input in the work programmes of SAIs across the EU member countries and the Network. These are summarised in this Figure.
8 SAIs consult with their parliaments in one way or another on their WPs 21 SAIs have a legal provision for audit on request of the Parliament
Good practices for work programme Audit request : Agree with parliament on the procedure for consultation before a formal request is made. Legal provision to request an audit : Limit the number of audits on request to be carried out at the same time or during the year. Work programme : Inform parliament about the work programme (if this is legally possible). Organise opportunities for parliament to regularly provide input (through meetings and interviews). Liaise with the dedicated committee and other relevant committees. Follow relevant discussions in parliament for identification of potential audits. Strategic plan : Organise opportunities for input by parliament (meetings, interviews, conferences).
The survey results confirm that all SAIs report to parliament, in most cases on the basis of a constitutional or other legal obligation.
Significant differences exist in the number of reports SAIs present to their parliaments: from 2 (in Greece) to 443 (in Croatia).
It should be noted that the number of reports simply reflects the mandate, overall legal framework and capacity of the SAI, and does not in any way give an indication about the quality of reports or the underlying audit work.
Good practices for reporting Submit reports to parliament and publish at the same time. Make sure reports are distributed among all relevant members/committees. Offer presentations and briefings on reports. Use press releases to highlight important issues. Consider being selective in the reports submitted or give advice on which reports to select for examination. Consider thematic reports assembling results from previous audits.
Many of the SAIs surveyed have taken initiatives to meet the standards implying that SAIs should establish good working relationships with parliament, raise awareness about the role of SAIs and assist in understanding audit reports. Most of them report to have regular or frequent contact at all levels, some on high level only and only a few only on an ad hoc basis.
Good practices for communication with parliament Hold regular meetings with the parliament, supplemented by informal contacts at the working-level. Co-ordinate agendas and reporting timetables with the parliament. Organise conferences, roundtables and workshops. Issue guidance material and booklets. Organise training / induction on the SAI for new members of parliament. Agree memoranda of understanding with the parliament on procedures for co-operation. Establish a communication policy. Improve understanding through the secondment of staff.
It is clear from the survey results that all SAIs monitor the follow-up of observations and the implementation of recommendations made in their reports, as would be expected on the basis of the standards. Many SAIs keep an up-to-date database: Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro use an excel file, Bulgaria and Ireland use an electronic register, and specialised software is employed in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
Examples of good practices in SAI follow-up procedures Recommendations are well founded, workable, realistic and concrete. A monitoring system is established. The status of recommendations is published. Implementation of recommendations is reported at fixed intervals. Monitoring is integrated into the system for planning reviews and follow-up audits. Specific attention is given to reporting on implementation of recommendations in performance audit reports.
Many SAIs see room for the improvement of follow-up procedures by parliaments: according to the survey, 11 SAIs (33%) are critical about the level or effectiveness of parliamentary follow-up on SAI observations and recommendations. A number of parliaments are also reported to have no follow‑up procedures at all.
Examples of good practices for follow-up procedures of parliaments Standard procedures for handling SAI reports are developed. Hearings with auditees are organised. An action plan from the government or auditee is required. Deadlines are set for action plans or measures to be taken. Sanctions from the SAI or parliament (political, financial and disciplinary) are considered in cases of serious non-compliance with recommendations. Implementation reports from auditees or the government are required.
This Figure summarises the main committee arrangements for handling SAI reports across EU member countries and Network countries.
In 20 countries SAI reports are handled by a Parliamentary Audit Committee;
In 14 countries SAI reports handled by the full Budget Committee: this is also still the case in most IPA countries
Only 3 countries have formed a Subcommittee within the Budget Committee to handle SAI reports (e.g. Serbia)
(Belgium, Poland, The Slovak Republic and Sweden have other arrangements.)
Good practices for parliamentary arrangements Committee responsibilities for SAI reports are adequately organised. A specialised audit committee or subcommittee has been established. Sectoral committees are involved in dealing with performance audit reports. A formal discharge procedure is part of the budget cycle in the context of budgetary oversight. A rapporteur is assigned for specific SAI reports. Hearings are held with the auditee. A schedule is set for parliamentary discussion on SAI reports to make timely conclusions possible. Sufficient staff and analytical resources are available in parliament.
Good working relationships between SAIs and parliament are important
Effectively holding government to account for the use of public money Promoting accountability and transparency influencing better policy and service delivery
Parliaments should be
looking to their SAI to provide them with the information so that they can fulfil their role engaging with SAIs about how they can effectively support the parliament
And finally while there is no one best way of organising and developing the relationship
There is a lot good and interesting practice that both SAIs and parliaments can learn from
Presentation by A. Swarbrick, SIGMA (English), Regional Conference for Supreme Audit Institutions of the European Neighbourhood South Region, June 2018
Background and Purpose
1. Request of the Network of SAIs of EU Candidate
and Potential Candidate Countries and the
European Court of Auditors (Network)
2. Guidance for strengthening working relationships
between SAIs and Parliaments:
Identify key factors and good practices
Enable the identification of potential improvements
Enhance impact of audit work on improving management of
• Acknowledged the precondition of independent
professional SAIs working according to international
• Focussed only on the request of the Network for “working
• Drawing from EU MS and Network SAIs (36) practical
• Analysing relevant standards and principles
• Searching feedback from Network SAIs
Content of paper
1. Expectations for SAIs
2. Expectations for Parliaments
3. Contextual factors
4. Good practices and key success factors
Annex 1 International Standards
Annex 2 Toolkit
Annex 3 questionnaire and
33 country contributions
For SAIs: large number of relevant standards and
(ISSAIs: 1, 10, 12, 20; SAI-PMF, PEFA)
For Parliaments: rather good practices
Only two generally accepted requirements:
• Parliament holds government to account
• Parliament has formal mechanism to consider SAI
For Public Accounts Committees more generally
accepted guiding principles
Contextual factors matter
• Organisational model and mandate
• Leadership and development
• Parliamentary system
• Governmental organisation
• Budget and accounting system
• Political environment and culture
Good practices and
key success factors
• Audit work programme
• Reporting to Parliament
• Follow-up on recommendations
• Reporting on SAI Performance
• Parliamentary arrangements
Work programmes of SAIs
Consultation on WP
(Number of SAIs)
Legal provision for audit
on request (Number of
Reporting to Parliament
Number of reports submitted in 2015
Communication with Parliament
Intensity of contacts
Follow-up on audit findings
By SAIs By Parliaments
Key Good Practices
SAI Audit work programme
Establish process for consultation
Reporting to Parliament
Briefing or presentations from SAI
Communication with Parliament
Memorandum of understanding
Hearings with auditees
Follow-up on recommendations
Thank you for your attention !
Paper published on