Speech of the Auditor General of Estonia and Chairman of the EUROSAI WGEA Dr. Alar Karis at the opening of the 10th meeting of ARABOSAI Environment Committee on 12 February 2017 in Kuwait City

Alar Karis | 2/17/2017 | 12:57 PM

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Honourable President Adel Al-Sarawi,
distinguished guests,
dear participants,

I am delighted for the invitation from the Kuwait State Audit Bureau to participate in the meeting of ARBOSAI Environmental Committee 10th meeting and especially pleased to have an opportunity to address you and share my insights to auditing, cooperation of SAIs and the latest news from the EUROSAI Working Group on Environmental Auditing.

The last four years have given me, as an Auditor General, the chance to see up close what can and what can’t be achieved with auditing. It is unfortunately not always a success story but we have our moments and sharing with you those experiences is the best one can do to enhance the impact of our work. For all of us, audit is a tool that we use in order to improve the use of public money and in the context of this meeting of course the environmental performance in the public sector. It happens too often that the voice of SAIs is not being heard as much as we would like to. One of our main challenge is finding ways to make ourselves heard and, therefore, to our environmental audits work for the more sustainable governance, supporting better and healthier environment for the people in our countries.

I have observed that audits focusing on relevant and urgent issues get more attention from decision makers and have a greater impact on their decisions. So our first task is to find and focus on relevant and important topics to avoid wasting a scarce and valuable resource – that is the auditors’ time. Therefore we need constantly search for good audit practices and new methods for discovering and proving problems. This is why we also have the environmental working groups – to join our minds for identifying problems and gain strength to our voice. But this is only part of the story.

As we all know, environmental problems do not respect country borders. Often environmental damage, which has occurred in one country due to natural or human induced catastrophes, affects also neighbouring countries. This is especially relevant here in Kuwait because of the tragic memory of the environmental catastrophe that resulted after the invasion of Kuwait in 1991 and where the solution to problems was in cooperation. Dealing with environmental issues calls for cooperation and solving problems does not ask for politics.

Let me bring you an example of cooperative audit in rather tense political atmosphere. It was about water quality of Lake Peipus where NAO of Estonia and the Accounts Chamber of the Russian Federation joined their forces in audit. Lake Peipus is large boarder lake between Estonia and Russia with number of common environmental issues that can be solved only jointly. As a result of the audit sharing of environmental data and the cooperation between countries improved significantly but most importantly the problems of the Lake Peipus got attention of both governments.

Let me give you an another example. This time from the centre of Africa there is Lake Chad or, should I say, what is left of it. Lake Chad was once known as “the Pale-Chadian Sea”. During last 50 years a surface area of 25 000 km2 has reduced by ten times - being now barely 2,500 km2.

Two years ago, I participated in the final conference of the cooperative audit of Lake Chad. Where SAIs of Chad, Nigeria, Niger and Cameroon presented their audit results. The scale of the audit and the work done in the process was impressive. As a result, several problems stretching from lacking strategies to insufficient control measures of water users and failure to comply with financial commitments by member states were clearly demonstrated.

I also witnessed the press-conference of the joint audit and I can ensure that the audit was noticed. So, let me make my first point. My experience shows that in case of vast and cross border environmental problems, cooperative audits do have a tendency to gain more attention and, thus, increase the overall impact of the audit.

Nevertheless, while the audit was going Lake Chad kept shrinking and this must also give us a lesson. And here is my second point: we can’t be satisfied with just finishing the report or giving the press conference. Jointly we must share our experiences about how in a best way bring about the changes while it still matters. To identify risks before they become problems and not only ex-post recognise that - in the case of Lake Chad - the lake is literally gone. This future looking approach is not very familiar to the profession of auditors but sooner or later we have to embrace this attitude because this is what is expected from us.

From the programme of this ARABOSAI environmental working group meeting I am happy to see big problems like liquid waste from industrial installations being attended. Topics like coastal strip control, natural reserves and energy are certainly issues for years to come and the involvement of SAIs today can make difference to the lives of people of the region.

I am glad to bring you news also about cooperative environmental audits in the EUROSAI region and demonstrate where the current focus of our working group lies. EUROSAI WEGA members have recently initiated three cooperative audits. SAIs of the Netherlands and Poland are leading an audit, which aims to analyse national policies on air quality. The SAIs of Malta and Cyprus are leading a cooperative audit on Mediterranean Marine Protected Areas. This audit focuses on the protection of marine ecosystem. And finally, the National Audit Office of Estonia is coordinating the audit on energy efficiency in public buildings. In the European Union, this area is intensively regulated and the goals are ambitious as all new buildings need to be nearly zero-energy houses.

Just as you, the EUROSAI Working Group on Environmental Auditing is currently developing a new strategy for 2018-2020, and professional audit cooperation continues to be in the centre of our attention. Our members have expressed interest to continue close cooperation in the form of cooperative audits, which is why the working group needs to provide a forum for an active, specialist level network of auditors.

As a thread crossing through our new strategy, which we need to keep in mind in all activities, is of course the focus on sustainable development. Recent INCOSAI in Abu Dhabi called all SAIs to make meaningful, independent and professional audit contribution to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. As environmental auditing working groups, we have a substantial role in encouraging all SAIs to undertake audits with focus on the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals).

Another emerging topic for the EUROSAI WGEA is developing web based, freely accessible learning materials. As I mentioned above we need to learn what to audit but equally important is also how to audit. Last year, the National Audit Office of Estonia developed two MOOCs - Massive Open Online Courses - namely, introduction to environmental auditing in the public sector and auditing environmental impacts of infrastructure.

I’m glad to report that these courses were widely acknowledged worldwide, we had participants from more than 30 countries all over the world. There were about 200 participants in each course and we received a lot of positive feedback from them. From this we concluded that there is clearly a demand for this type of education and that this form of sharing the knowledge is working. Based on this experience we have plans to develop at least one more course in coming years in cooperation with colleagues from the EUROSAI WGEA.

The two above mentioned courses will be run again in the future and all members of ARABOSAI are most welcomed to participate. I’m confident that using online tools is cost-effective and beneficial for individual SAIs, but also to the worldwide SAI community. The new technologies open up new avenues for auditing as well as for international cooperation which has been made much easier, less resource-demanding, and accessible. So, my final point is that in many ways auditing is changing and we should not be left behind.

Dear colleagues, I hope this meeting will contribute to this goal for being better prepared for the future. I wish you a successful meeting with lots of fresh ideas for the new strategy of your organisation, as well as cooperation within and outside the ARABOSAI community and would be glad to share my thoughts and insights with you during my stay here in Kuwait City.

  • Posted: 2/17/2017 12:57 PM
  • Last Update: 2/17/2017 4:22 PM
  • Last Review: 2/17/2017 4:22 PM

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