Principles of SAI Independence

Principle 2: Independence of SAI Leadership

SAI Independence Principle 2

The independence of SAI heads and their members (of collegial institutions), including security of tenure and legal immunity in the normal discharge of their duties.

Principle 2 recognises that the people chosen to lead a SAI, and who are recognised by the legal framework established under Principle 1, must have the freedom to carry out that role without fear of arbitrary dismissal or the risk of being subjected to legal action (whether criminal, civil, or some other form) by those unhappy with the SAI’s audits or reports.

Principle 2 has four key elements. They are:

  • The process of appointment: This should be set out clearly in the legal framework, and should be transparent and free of political influence or faction. It should result in the appointment of the Head of SAI (and, where applicable, senior office holders within the SAI) on merit. Important personal attributes include leadership ability, integrity, managerial skills, reforming passion, and the professional skills to lead the SAI and bring about its continued growth and transformation as an institution. It is good practice for the process of appointing the Head of SAI to be set out in the Constitution, and to be made by, or require the approval or recommendation of, the Legislature.
  • The term of office: Principle 2 recognises that Heads of SAI (and those appointed to senior SAI positions) should be given sufficient tenure to make a difference. Too short a period and little can be done – too long and the organisation can suffer from a lack of turnover. There are several possible options. They include appointing the Head of SAI on a permanent basis subject to an age of retirement; providing for a renewable appointment (for example for a term of five years); or providing a single, non-renewable term (for example of seven, ten or more years). This is likely to be the subject of debate, especially if it requires a different approach to that taken for other public officials. The outcome may be influenced significantly by country context, including the terms of the Constitution, approaches to political authority, and cultural factors.
  • Protection from removal from office: The legal framework should state clearly the basis on which the Head of SAI may be suspended or removed from office. Ideally, this should be stated in the Constitution and should confer the same level of protection as that available for members of the Judiciary or other important office holders (being, for example, limited to incapacity or misconduct). As with appointments, a clear and transparent process for suspension or removal from office is essential, protecting against arbitrary or politically motivated action.
  • Legal immunity: The Head of SAI, and where applicable the SAI as an institution and its senior office holders, need to be immune to any prosecution, civil action, or other form of punitive legal sanction for any act, past or present, that results from the normal discharge of their duties. Without clear immunity, those wishing to silence the SAI or suppress uncomfortable audit findings can use legal processes to prevent the SAI going about its work, or prohibit or delay release of its reports and other information into the public domain.

Finding the right mechanisms and balances for these provisions can be among the most difficult aspects of developing the SAI’s legal framework. They can require careful drafting, to ensure transparency and avoid loopholes which could be used against the SAI or its personnel in a retaliatory fashion.