The board of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative is meeting in Oslo this week to discuss, among other issues, the mainstreaming of extractive sector reporting. As focus moves away from EITI reports to governments’ own systems, it is important to examine the initiative’s relationship with key domestic actors like supreme audit institutions.
Supreme audit institutions (SAIs) and EITI have a lot in common. Both involve reconciling extractive sector accounts. Both work across the resource governance decision chain. Both hold themselves and others to high technical and ethical standards. And both are focused on ensuring public resources are managed well and in citizens’ best interests.
Not enough is known, however, about how SAIs and EITI can bolster each other’s important and complementary work.
NRGI staff have supported EITI since the beginning of the initiative, and EITI-related analysis, technical assistance and training is a key component of many of our country programs. But when we asked some NRGI colleagues how national audit offices (or courts or boards, depending on the country) had come up in their EITI work, none could point to a clear example.
So we asked a few people at the EITI secretariat. Luckily, they were able to share some examples of SAI involvement in standard-setting, quality assurance and even some direct engagement with EITI processes (more on this below). They also mentioned that this is an area they are starting to explore themselves, with SAI representatives participating in a November 2017 conference in Cameroon.
Then, during a recent meeting with the Ghanaian Audit Service, we had the chance to test some of our ideas about how to strengthen the links between SAIs and EITI.
It is clear that there is a lot of potential around these links. Here are a few of the biggest opportunities that we see so far, with some caveats:
- SAIs can provide reliable data for EITI analysis. In order to reconcile company payments with government receipts, EITI bodies must be able to rely on the government data they use. However, an independent review of EITI processes around the world found that data quality and assurance is a common challenge. Because SAIs are already mandated, often constitutionally, to provide a regular, independent check on the accuracy of all government accounts, national EITI processes should be able to turn to SAIs for verified data. This is already happening in some countries, including Ghana. As EITI countries begin to mainstream, it is likely that SAIs will play an increasingly important data verification role.Caveat: Not all SAIs operate according to international auditing standards called for by the EITI, an issue specifically flagged by several past EITI reports.
- SAIs can advise national EITI bodies on auditing systems.Because of their mandate, SAIs are necessarily experts in verifying and reconciling government data. They also have a bird’s-eye view of resource governance across different government institutions, as well as expertise in verifying non-financial data that EITI has only recently begun to cover, such as company production figures and contractual obligations. Several national EITI processes, for example in Mongolia and Liberia, are already leveraging this expertise through sustained technical assistance or targeted support, such as designing company reporting templates.Caveat: Not all SAIs have the internal expertise or resources to provide this support.
- SAIs can build on EITI findings, and vice versa. Given their complementary mandates and processes, SAIs and EITI bodies are well-positioned to cross-reference each other’s findings and reinforce important recommendations. For example, EITI reports can flag and make recommendations around any extractives-related findings from previous SAI reports (e.g., discrepancies, inefficiencies and unverifiable figures). SAIs can use EITI reports to identify major risk areas and dig deeper into disclosure discrepancies, as has been the case in Zambia. Where necessary, they can also act in concert, reinforcing each other’s calls for greater transparency and accountability.Caveat: The legitimacy and effectiveness of both depend on their independence, real and perceived. SAIs in particular must take great care to avoid any potential undue influence.
- SAIs can participate in national EITI multi-stakeholder groups.Every EITI-participating country has a national multi-stakeholder group. In some countries, like Iraq, SAIs are formally represented in the group. Having a seat at the table might allow a SAI to directly contribute to strengthening the country’s EITI priorities and processes. It might also help raise the SAI’s profile in public debate around extractive resource governance, ultimately helping it be more effective.Caveat: This opportunity is particularly context-specific. Participating in a multi-stakeholder group is not the only, or necessarily the best, way for a SAI to influence EITI processes and raise its profile. SAIs must always maintain their objectivity and independence, so it might be better for them to participate as observers, if at all.
As long-standing supporters of EITI and somewhat new and deeply committed advocates for SAIs taking a more active role in resource governance, NRGI is keen to explore ways to maximize the relationship between these two important parts of the accountability ecosystem.
Dana Wilkins is a capacity development officer with the Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI). Edna Osei-Appiah is an Africa associate with NRGI.