What are Supreme Audit Institutions?

Supreme Audit Institutions, or SAIs, are public oversight institutions which audit a government’s use of public funds. They are a critical link in a country’s accountability chain.

Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs) are public bodies responsible for the audit of government revenue and expenditure. By scrutinizing public financial management and reporting they provide assurance that resources are used as prescribed .

Most SAIs derive their mandate from the constitution and/or legislation. SAIs undertake financial audits of organizations’ accounting procedures and financial statements, and compliance audits reviewing the legality of transactions made by the audited body. The also conduct performance audits to scrutinize the efficiency, effectiveness or economy of government’s undertakings.

SAIs are often seen to belong to one of three institutional frameworks:

  1. The Westminster model, also known as the Anglo-Saxon or Parliamentary model, used in the United Kingdom and most Commonwealth countries including many in sub-Saharan African, some European countries, and Latin American countries such as Peru and Chile. Key features include a National Audit Office headed by an independent Auditor General or equivalent, which submits audit reports to a committee of Parliament (often the Public Accounts Committee).2)  The Judicial or Napoleonic model used by
  2. France, many Latin countries in Europe, Turkey, francophone countries in Africa and Asia and several Latin American countries including Brazil and Colombia. Here the SAI, often a Court of Accounts or Cour des Comptes forms part of the judicial system and forms judgements on the use of public funds by government officials.
  3. The Board or Collegiate model used by many Asian countries including Indonesia, Japan and the Republic of Korea, and some European countries, including Germany and the Netherlands. This approach has similarities to the Westminster model, except an audit board or boards produces audit reports and submits these to Parliament.

What is INTOSAI?

Nearly every SAI from a UN-member country is a member of the International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions, or INTOSAI. INTOSAI is a voluntary, non-political organization that works to promote auditing standards, good governance of SAIs, and SAI independence, among other work. INTOSAI has numerous committees and working groups which examine issues of particular relevance to SAIs, such as developing professional standards for public sector auditing, knowledge sharing, and capacity building.

In addition to the main INTOSAI organization, there are seven INTOSAI Regional Organizations. The regions are AFROSAI (Africa, with two sub-regional groups CREFIAF for Francophone Africa and AFROSAI-E for Anglophone Africa), ARABOSAI (Middle East and North Africa), ASOSAI (Asia), CAROSAI (Caribbean), EUROSAI (Europe and Eurasia), OLACEFS (Latin America) and PASAI (Oceania). Most SAIs belong to at least one region, and some SAIs belong to two.

INTOSAI has a number of bodies and organs, including committes and working groups which examine specific issues of relevance to SAIs, such as professional standards, environmental audits, and capacity building. This also includes the INTOSAI Development Initiative.

The INTOSAI Development Initiative, or IDI for short, is an independent INTOSAI body tasked with enhancing the capacities of SAIs in developing countries. As of 2019, IDI is working with SAIs in over 160 countries. IDI’s delivery model centers around four thematic work streams: Independent SAIs, Well-Governed SAIs, Professional SAIs, and Relevant SAIs. It delivers direct bilateral support to certain individual SAIs, and also works on strategic and cross- cutting issues which effect all SAIs, such as culture and leadership, communications and stakeholder management, and inclusiveness and gender.

As part of its work with SAI Independence, IDI operates this SAI Independence Resource Centre and manages the SAI Independence Rapid Advocacy Mechanism (SIRAM). IDI also works directly with individual SAIs around the world to help them enhance their independence.