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Responding to the challenges of supreme audit institutions cover

Responding to the Challenges of Supreme Audit Institutions: can Legislatures and Civil Society Help?

Albert van Zyl et al.
Publication year: 
Source of the information: 
Chr. Michelsen Institute


The gaps between approved budgets and the realisation of policy development goals are among the key governance challenges in developing countries. Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs) play a central role in holding governments accountable. This paper explores the challenges of accountability and suggests how SAIs can overcome them by building alliances with parliaments, civil society organisations (CSOs) and donors.


SAIs are mandated to communicate information to authorities and the public, develop sound financial management and properly execute administrative activities. In doing so, they face the following challenges:
  • Institutional challenges – they are underfunded, understaffed, under skilled and constrained by very narrow mandates.
  • Political challenges – exposure to undue political influence especially where the executive can dismiss the head of the SAI without consulting the legislature.
  • Technical challenges – most auditors are not conversant with modern technological developments and new approaches to financial management.
  • Communication challenges – audit language is too technical for lay people, making communication with stakeholders difficult.
The paper suggests the following ways in which legislatures should support SAIs in responding to the challenges:
  • Regularly following up on implementation of audit findings
  • Making such follow-up meetings open to the media and the public to create further pressure for implementation
  • Limiting the time that the executive has to implement audit findings: when an audit finding is particularly negative, the PAC could insist that corrective action be taken within a specific timeframe.

The publication suggests the following ways in which CSOs can contribute to SAIs work:
  • CSOs can utilise their networks and expertise to detect potential cases of corruption and report to SAIs.
  • Due to their proven track record of building citizen literacy, they could play a part in increasing budget literacy.
  • They can play a role by publicising audit recommendations and any delays in implementing them by government.
  • They can provide assistance through providing performance audits.


In order to make it easier to get support from legislatures and CSOs, the paper suggests that SAIs should report audit findings on time, simplify the language of their reports, be more proactive in their communication campaigns and encourage input from all stakeholders.
The paper further advises donors to promote a more holistic approach to budget accountability, improve their understanding of the formal and informal mechanisms that underlie budget processes, encourage and fund innovations and collaboration between SAIs, PACs and CSOs and encourage governments to be more transparent.