Engaging with the public
At the Open Government Partnership’s Annual Summit (London, October 31-November 1). high level representatives and experts from civil society and Supreme Audit Institutions (SAI) from different regions and countries came together for a roundtable discussion to share experiences, compare approaches and discuss challenges and critical success factors. The panel included Fezeka Baliso (South Africa Auditor General Office), Brenda Killen (OECD), Renzo Lavin (TPA Initiative), Heidi Mendoza (Philippines Commission on Audit), Vinod Rai (former Comptroller General of India), Quentin Reed (independent consultant), Paulo R. Simao (Brazil Tribunal de Contas da Uniao), Marko Sosic (Montenegro Institut Alternativa). First row contributors included Sowmya Kudambi (MKSS) and Paolo de Renzio (International Budget Partnership). The roundtable discussion was hosted by the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre in partnership with ACIJ, UNDP, WBI, and in collaboration with IDI and OECD, organized a roundtable discussion on the engagement of Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs) with citizens.
Based on her work in the Philippines, panellist Heidi Mendoza emphasized the importance of engaging citizens at all stages of the audit cycle, and stressed the practical challenges of reconciling the technical and highly structured work of the auditors with the informal and loosely structured oversight by civil society.
From different perspectives Vinod Rai and Sowmya Kudambi reflected on the Indian experience. For them, engagement with citizens is critical for making audit work relevant, but also the best way for SAIs to access local information that auditors do not have. Communicating with citizens in clear and plain language and aligning efforts with civil society groups that conduct social audits were also highlighted.
Panellist Fezeka Balisso said "we engage with the people who are paying taxes in our country." She stressed that the SAIs’ mandate is to respond to what citizens and society demand. Brazil presented the experience of expert panels through the audit cycle, which has been institutionalized as part of the SAI’s standards on performance audits.
Another highlight was the introduction by Brenda Killen to an OECD project (in partnership with INTOSAI and SAIs, and collaborating with U4) that aims at taking stock of different mechanisms for transparency and participation in SAIs and gathering additional data on how SAIs engage with other actors.
The TPA Initiative inquired about the role of SAIs, and emphasized the importance of strengthening the demand for participation. While there are significant advances in setting participatory mechanisms in Latin America, Renzo Lavin observed that SAIs often complain about citizens not using them. Marko Sosic stressed that SAIs need to unleash the potential of citizens and highlighted the critical role of civil society in following up on SAIs’ recommendations and audit findings.
These are good news but ongoing challenges remain, said Paolo de Renzio. The panellists reflected on some of the most common bottlenecks for further engagement with citizens, such as the fear of losing autonomy, literacy and language barriers, pressure on results, the extra strain in terms of resources and workload, and the challenges associated with the institutionalization of participatory practices.
The participants also shared ideas on how to strengthen SAI engagement and move the agenda forward within OGP. These include creating a working space for collaboration of different actors through a community of practice, identifying a specific section on SAIs within the action plans and IRM, and setting a sub-group on SAIs within the fiscal transparency working group, among others. They all agreed on the important role development partners must play in promoting more effective engagement with citizens.
At the end of the Summit, the OGP recognised a joint project by the Philippines Commission on Audit and civil society (Affiliated Network for Social Accountability in East Asia and the Pacific) with a Bright Spot Award. The project is a mix of offline and online efforts of the SAI, civil society, and citizens to audit projects that have an impact on a large number of beneficiaries.
People's Engagement on LinkedIn continues the discussion
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