EUROSAI. Magazine N26 - 2021

EUROSAI 98 Studies and other articles Public procurement, between legislation and contingency The 700 external public auditors involved in this audit, at the request of the Parliament, analyzed the management of a 5 billion lei budget for expenditures used in the fight against COVID-19. Most of these expenses, i.e. 73%, were granted for compensations payment related to the temporary suspension of the employment contract, at the initiative of the employer. Almost 2.5 million employees in this situation have applied for compensation. Of these, 2.06 million were approved. All of these payments were reviewed by the auditors, and this is only part of the overall effort. Another key component of the audit concerned the procedures for the award of public procurement contracts during the state of emergency. In formulating their conclusions, the auditors took into account the international context in which the public procurement procedures were carried out in order to create emergency medical stocks. This context was an exceptional one, characterized by a massive demand from the countries affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Obviously, given the urgency, the deadlines for award procedures have been reduced. The examination of the documents revealed irregularities in the public procurements, because the contracting authority did not apply a unitary treatment to all the economic operators that participated in the awarding procedures during the state of emergency. Also, the principle of equal and non-discriminatory treatment was not respected in all cases. Good practices and risk analysis Based on the report regarding management of public resources during the state of emergency, made at the request of the Romanian Parliament, the Court of Accounts issued several complaints to the National Anticorruption Directorate, which are now being investigated. Beyond these legal matters, the Supreme Audit Institution from Romania wanted, through this action, to encourage the audited entities that have demonstrated a correct and efficient behavior. It highlighted models of good practice, and called on everyone to take into account the global context, dominated by uncertainty, when analyzing how public resources were managed during this period. The pandemic has significantly increased the risks to compliance, thus affecting accountability and transparency. These risks are closely linked to the significant volume of financial resources made available to central and local government. The risks also depend on the ambiguities associated with the authorities, which have used new funds for special purposes, but also on the challenges in implementing internal controls, as a result of capacity restrictions in compliance examinations. The risks of fraud and corruption have also increased, due to weak internal controls and the need to balance the urgency of the action with the need to comply with the regulatory framework in force. Thus, the audit evidence was obtained from different sources, which provided a higher level of assurance: scanned and paper documents made available to auditors, information from the press, monitoring of public procurement, as well as from the Electronic Public Procurement System. The overall conclusion of this comprehensive and urgent audit mission was that, in most cases, the use and management of public resources in preventing and combating the COVID-19 pandemic were in line with the purpose, objectives and responsibilities set out in the state of emergency characteristic legislation. Exceptions were systemic impairments and deviations from the law, identified in certain cases and highlighted in the report. As usual, auditors have made proposals and recommendations, which can be used to build efficient and predictable working procedures for future crisis situations. Which we don't want, but we can be sure they will come. The pandemic crisis must be the Zero Moment of Truth, when we all start to make things moving efficiently, quickly, correctly and transparently The pandemic has significantly increased the risks to compliance, thus affecting accountability and transparency