SAIs must ensure accountability of spent public funds during Covid-19 pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic required unprecedented public sector interventions in our societies and economies, globally. Governments had to react quickly and under significant pressure to protect both lives and citizens from the worst impacts of the pandemic.

Due to the nature of the pandemic, much of the spending occurred through expeditated processes and as a result, the risks of corruption, mismanagement and waste were heightened. Delivering large-scale COVID-19 vaccination programmes poses significant challenges for governments and raises troubling questions around global inequality. 

Wider concerns around equality and transparency have also been raised as countries review how spending actually occurred – who benefitted from this spending and who was left behind? 

SAIs are essential in holding governments to account in how they spend and allocate resources. To support SAIs, Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) and IDI have partnered to release resources so that SAIs can carry out post-Covid-19 compliance audits that focus on transparency, accountability and inclusiveness.

The toolkit includes three policy briefs focusing on the following aspects of public spending during Covid-19:

  • Leave no one behind: Covid-19 exacerbated inequalities, many of which were overlooked when socioeconomic packages to tackle the impacts of the pandemic were developed and implemented. Public audits can help shed light on whether legislative and regulatory frameworks account for such inequalities and if existing safeguards were complied with.
  • Procuring at speed: This brief focuses on the risks associated with emergency procurement during the Covid-19 crisis. Specifically, how public audits can evaluate if existing and emergency frameworks were effective.
  • Beyond keeping receipts: At times of crisis, accountability and transparency tend to take a back seat – making public audit a more difficult undertaking. However, to maintain public trust and protect public funds, governments must ensure all public spending has a clear audit trail.

Mike Suffield, director of ACCA’s Professional Insights, says: ‘The nature of the current COVID-19 pandemic has meant public spending, in many jurisdictions, occurred through fast-tracked processes. As a result, risks of corruption, mismanagement and waste have certainly been increased. This is where Supreme Audit Institutions must take the lead. They can help address concerns around equality and transparency as countries review how spending actually occurred – who received the benefits of this spending and who was left behind? With the help of Auditors General, we can begin to learn lessons from the pandemic and ensure our responses in the future better consider the importance of transparency, accountability and inclusiveness.’

Einar Gørrissen, Director General of IDI adds: To assist Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs) during the COVID-19 outbreak, IDI launched the Global Cooperative Compliance Audits of the Transparency, Accountability and Inclusiveness of the Use of Emergency Funding for COVID-19 (TAI audits). SAIs have been increasingly challenged throughout the last 15 months, not only to ensure that their governments are held to account in unprecedented circumstances, but to learn, apply and roll out complex compliance audits at a time when pressures on resources have been enormous. The role of the SAI auditor has never been more important, relevant and visible than during this pandemic. Together, we can ensure that the lessons and learning of the past year impact positively on the transparency, accountability and inclusiveness of all SAI audits.'

ACCA and IDI will also be hosting a CPD webinar on 21 June 2021 focusing on the ‘leave no one behind’ policy brief. Please register here.