EUROSAI. Magazine N26 - 2021

EUROSAI 100 Studies and other articles Reflecting on the risks of the pandemic and integrity Society has questioned whether the principle of legality has been observed during the COVID-19 crisis. The heavy weight of public procurement, which in Spain accounts for 14% of the GDP, makes it necessary to audit contracts signed during the pandemic. The situation of urgency is conducive to proliferating risks such as overpriced procurement, the delivery of defective products, or a lack of diligence in contracting with suppliers who do not meet their commitments as agreed. The Spanish Court of Audit has already approved three reports on emergency procurement, and three others are at different stages of preparation. The approved audits have identified weaknesses in the justification of the emergency procedure, a lack of adequate and sufficient credit and a delay in the start of the implementation process. There is also a general absence of a figure responsible for supervising the performance of the contract and issuing instructions to ensure correct provision. In a significant number of contracts awarded by municipalities and non-administrative public bodies (foundations, non-administrative public entities or independent agencies), the capacity and solvency requirements of the successful tenderer have not been verified, and the contracting body has offered no reasons for the exception to this requirement. Together with the fact that, in some cases, contracts have been signed for matters that were not part of the successful tenderers' corporate purpose, this creates a risk of non-performance or unsatisfactory performance of the contract. There is also another important principle at the heart of these issues, one that is fundamental to governance and very much at the heart of the Recovery and Resilience Mechanism: integrity. Integrity is the essential pillar on which all governance rests. Integrity implies the effective realisation of the principles that must inspire the diligent, fair, equitable and reliable administration of resources. The Court of Audit understands that training and prevention play a central role in the pursuit of integrity in public management and also involve stakeholders. One of our audit reports found that a certain entity had an adequate protocol for the monitoring, detection and prosecution of fraud, but no prevention system in place to promote training and information for those with management responsibilities. It is also noted as a weakness that persons who blow the whistle on irregular behaviour are not informed of the confidentiality measures with which they will be protected or of the procedure that will be followed after they have given their alert or made their complaint. To speak of 'integrity' is to refer to an action that goes beyond compliance, transcending mere formal compliance with the Law, whereby there is a change in the working atmosphere, where probity is the rule, both in public managers and in all stakeholders. I believe that, to make integrity a reality, it is important not only to treat the pathology of corruption itself, but also to invest in its prevention. This prevention encompasses public managers and stakeholders alike. The misuse of public goods, corruption... occurs in all countries. What is different is what happens when it occurs, the reactions it provokes, the degree of tolerance it enjoys. We cannot persist in the culture of 'they are all the same'; the comment 'we would all do it' is not acceptable. I conclude with the aforementioned ISSAI 12, in the conviction that the SAIs' contribution to making a difference in the standard of living of citizens depends on their contribution to the cultural and educational change that incorporates integrity as a principle of public management. It may be a long haul, but the return is high and guaranteed.