Cooperation between the National Audit Office and the Parliament

Toomas Mattson | 12/14/2009 | 12:45 PM

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Based on historical, cultural and political factors the relationships between national audit institutions and parliaments vary from country to country: a national audit office may be a part of the Executive or Legislature or independent of them. In some countries the supreme audit institution reports to the president or another head of state, for instance, a sheikh, and in other countries it is under the control of the government while in some (notably Great Britain and the United States) it is strongly aimed at the parliament.

According to the Constitution, the Estonian National Audit Office is not a part of any branch of power, but remains in between them all. And although the work results of the National Audit Office are aimed at the Riigikogu, the Government and the public, the Riigikogu remains the first client. Based on authorisation obtained from the Parliament the Government spends the taxpayer’s money and must report on spending it. The National Audit Office investigates how the will of the Riigikogu has been followed and whether the spending has been reasonable and whether the results that the Government promised to achieve when obtaining money from the Parliament have been achieved. Thus, with regard to the Parliament the National Audit Office is an information agency of sorts.

Both in Europe as well as elsewhere in the world it is common practice that the Parliament has a special Public Accounts Committee who discusses reports submitted by the supreme audit institution, invites high-ranking public officials to give explanations, discusses its reaction and thereafter presents to the Parliament its conclusions along with recommendations for further activity. For instance, the Public Accounts Committee of the British Parliament has been operating since 1861.

In Estonia a committee entrusted with such functions was formed in the Parliament in 2004. The Riigikogu Select Committee on the Control of the State Budget was established for the purpose of ensuring jointly with the National Audit Office control over the implementation of the state budget and economic, efficient, effective and lawful use of the state assets and state budget funds, i.e. over the Government of the Republic. The committee was established based on a direct need and the initiative of the National Audit office. Before establishment of the select committee the National Audit Office submitted its reports to the Finance Committee where these were considered an annoying additional duty and therefore the contacts with the Parliament remained weak.

According to the National Audit Office Act, the select committee serves as a link between the supreme audit institution and the Riigikogu, contributing to the performance of mutual functions. Each year and at the end of each working period the committee submits to the Riigikogu its activity report.

Traditionally, the position of the chairperson of the public accounts committee belongs to the leading representative of opposition in the parliament. This is the case in Estonia as well. While in Europe the composition of the committee usually proportionally reflects the composition of the parliament, Estonia has chosen to appoint to the committee two members from each parliamentary faction represented in the Riigikogu.

The National Audit Office can point out the problems, but we do not have the mechanism to resolve them. What is to be done to resolve the problems is up to the Riigikogu to decide. The National Audit Office tries to contribute to the work of the committee in any way it can, introducing to the members of the committee not only reports, but also adding the points of decision-making lying within the competence of the Riigikogu, which should be kept in mind based on the audit results.

The rules of procedure of the committee foresee discussion of audit reports as well discussion of the principles of auditing the public sector and important issues raised by the Auditor General. Where necessary, the select committee holds joint meetings with the permanent committees of the Parliament.
 

  • Posted: 12/14/2009 12:45 PM
  • Last Update: 9/8/2014 10:25 AM
  • Last Review: 9/8/2014 10:25 AM

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