EUROSAI. Magazine N26 - 2021

Magazine No. 26 - 2021 99 Studies and other articles Enriqueta Chicano Jávega President of the Spanish Court of Audit Secretary General of EUROSAI REFLECTIONS ON EXTERNAL AUDITS IN THE AFTERMATH OF THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC The challenges and our responses In the same way that the pandemic has forced governments to take extreme measures involving significant sacrifices for citizens, Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs) have had to demonstrate resilience to keep up their contributions to improving the lives of citizens as set out in the international standards applicable to SAIs (ISSAI 12). SAIs faced two specific challenges during the pandemic: on the one hand, developing our role in a context where most members of staff were working from home and, on the other, continuing to promote good governance in a situation where significant and urgent health risks forced governments to respond quickly, easing certain controls that may have led to laxity and risks in public management. The Court of Audit has proved it possible to combine working from home and in-person without reducing the quantity and quality of our work, leaving the door open to home-working systems. At the same time, the Court places strategic importance on the use of technology to make its role more efficient. For example, we will explore projects where technology applied to natural language document analysis helps strengthen the risk analyses that form the basis of our work. However, the use of technology has also revealed other weaknesses. The rapid generalisation of certain technologies by administrations made it possible for them to keep their activity going in the midst of the pandemic. However, it also showed that there were groups with difficulties in accessing these technologies and that the degree of maturity of the solutions put in place did not always make their mass use possible in a reliable way. In this context, SAIs' activities can help pinpoint risks and identify good practices to prevent and eliminate technological gaps that deepen inequality. The pandemic has had a direct impact on public management and has given rise to important questions: how has internal control functioned in these circumstances? How has confidence in public institutions been maintained? And how is the response to citizens being evaluated? Aware of its role as an active spectator of the crisis, the Court of Audit's agenda has incorporated audits that address weaknesses in the quality of information in such sensitive areas as the official figures of infections and deaths caused by COVID-19, the health care received, the procurement of supplies and their distribution, and the mechanisms for information exchange and collaboration between administrations for decision-making during health emergencies. In addition, the strategies adopted for recovery force us to face other realities that are already here, such as the Next Generation funds. This innovative mechanism behind Europe's recovery and transformation is a challenge for external control, which has to find an effective role in the panoply of established verifications, adding value and avoiding duplication, overlaps and gaps between internal and external controls. We must remember the commitment of supreme audit institutions to fulfilment of the Sustainable Development Goals, where the principle of "Leaving No One Behind" is an inspiration for the activities of SAIs whose strategic plans and actions have been permeated by priorities such as environmental sustainability, quality in public governance, gender equality and equity.