EUROSAI. Magazine N26 - 2021

EUROSAI 80 Studies and other articles As an oversight institution, ALSAI41can play a key role in different stages of a crisis like COVID-19, by conducting audits on the implementation of new regulations, programmes, or procurements, in order to provide advice on critical rules and regulations, and give opinions whether funds are being used for the right purposes, as well as by assessing the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of disaster-related aid in terms of results. By embarking on financial, compliance and performance audits that add value considering the related risks, ALSAI aims to have a deterrent effect and contribute to safeguarding government funds. On the other hand, the protection of the SAI staff itself and the adoption of innovative ways of working is still a challenge ALSAI needs to deal with continuously. Considering that much of the pandemic-related spending in Albania, occurred through expedited processes and as a result, the risks of corruption, mismanagement and waste were heightened, during 2020 and 2021 ALSAI conducted regularity audits in the Ministry of Health and Social Protection with main focus assessment of the procedures followed for pandemic related funds, where we observed that: • Following the expedited procurement procedures in cases when we are dealing with “essential interests of the state”, resulted to be regulated by a deficient legal framework, where this concept was not clearly foreseen. Thus the decision of the Ministry to follow expedited procedures, resulted to be based on subjective assessment, by increasing the risk of arbitrariness; • Some procedures failed to meet the criteria of “time” notwithstanding the fact that timely response was the main reason why this type of procedure was followed; • Some procedures resulted to be non effective, by failing to provide the necessary/vital medical equipment (such as respirators) or medications for COVID-19; • The Ministry resulted to not have applied penalties for late delivery or non-delivery at all, of some medical equipment and medicines crucial to treat COVID-19, the lack of which put at risk the health of citizens. 41Albania Supreme Audit Institution Also, ALSAI is conducting a performance audit on “Effectiveness of COVID-19 pandemic situation management in Albania”, aiming to assess the effectiveness of policies in managing the pandemic situation, as well as providing a clear picture of integrity, reliability and transparency of the system. The methodology used in this audit consists of: • Review, analysis and evaluation of reports and data collected during the audit study phase; • Interviews and open-ended questions with the representatives of the audited entities, questionnaires with the public as well as with the stakeholders, qualitative and quantitative elaboration and analysis of their answers; • Collection of data from secondary sources and their analysis; • Obtaining data and studying them from various publications on the COVID-19 pandemic situation; • Consultation with experts of the field, outside the audited entities; • Field observation of the situation to take a closer look at the issues raised in this audit. Also, ALSAI took the opportunity to conduct joint audits with other SAIs to exchange expertise and knowledge in the field. Currently, ALSAI has responded positively to the invitation of North Macedonia SAI for cooperation in a joint performance audit on “Auditing of municipalities’ revenues for providing quality services to citizens during the pandemic”. A working group is cooperating closely with partners in order to prioritize the issues. On the other hand, COVID-19 Pandemic has affected the lives of people, which, in turn, affects the work of auditors, who continuously are facing the challenge of exploring new approaches, and learning new skills to complete tasks they weren’t necessarily prepared to confront, in order to provide effective national pandemic response oversight. It is said that the struggle you’re in today, develops the strength you need tomorrow. This phrase is more relevant than ever for SAIs, as we are facing numerous challenges and forging new directions to address COVID-19 Pandemic implications. If there has ever been a moment where we should perseveringly turn the threats into opportunities, it is now.