National Audit Chamber Using IGAD Expertise to Meet International Standards in Accountability and TransparencyFeb 28, 2017
Framed newspaper headlines detailing reports of government financial mismanagement pepper the walls of the office of Ambassador Steven K. Wondu, South Sudan’s Auditor-General. The headlines serve as a reminder of a job well-done for the group of dedicated public servants he leads at the National Audit Chamber.
“Impunity is no longer what it used to be, it’s not like the old days. And listen, there is no physician who finds a tumor in one of your organs and doesn’t tell you about it. I have to tell, otherwise I would be failing myself,” said Amb. Wondu. “The role of an auditor is a forensics job. An auditor should be seen as coming to help not to witch-hunt.”
The National Audit Chamber is the Supreme Audit Institution (SAI) of the Republic of South Sudan. It is responsible for independent public sector audits of government ministries, states and entities in which the government has an interest or responsibility. As a member of both the African Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions (AFROSAI) and the International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions (INTOSAI), the National Audit Chamber of South Sudan is obligated to promote development and transfer of knowledge, and meet professional auditing standards.
Since 2011, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Regional Initiative for Capacity Enhancement in South Sudan, commonly referred to as the “IGAD Regional Initiative”, has provided support to the National Audit Chamber to fulfill these international obligations and build national audit capabilities through the provision of Civil Service Support Officers (CSSOs) who are specialized auditors sourced from the governments of Kenya, Uganda, and Ethiopia. The project is funded by Norway, with UNDP providing technical support and South Sudan’s Ministry of Labour, Public Service and Human Resource Development playing a key role in directing implementation.
Currently, four Ugandan CSSOs are deployed to the National Audit Chamber in Juba, where they mentor and coach up to 100 South Sudanese counterparts, or “twins” on practical aspects of conducting effective public sector audits. During their time, the CSSOs have helped conduct audits on 65 entities and guided the completion of 19 released reports.
“I am proud to say these CSSOs sitting with the National Audit Chamber are serious about their work. Every day they are here in the office and every day we get every answer we need from them. I seriously appreciate them,” said Ayen Yai Kuol, one of the national “twins” and an audit manager.
Ms. Kuol has 16 years of experience as an auditor in Khartoum. She now works frequently on audits with the Judiciary of South Sudan and says one of the best results of the mentoring she’s received is the improvement to the quality of her reports.
“Our services are in demand,” she continued. “At the Judiciary, they have told me they feel there is a difference between me and past auditors. The Chief Justice actually asked me to stay on longer but I explained my mandate and responsibility to carry out the auditing needed, and ultimately move on.”
The reputation of the National Audit Chamber is growing alongside their capacity to conduct thoughtful and thorough auditing reports that fulfill international standards. More government entities these days are proactively seeking their services.
“The Ministry of Defense has told me that the audit recommendations are welcomed and helpful, that the auditing is adding value to the ministry,” said Edward Wani Zakaria, a financial auditor and another “twin” in the National Auditor Chamber. “They want to discuss the issues found in the reports. They feel audits are an asset to the institution and will give them a clear view of change.”
The CSSOs also report a shift in receptiveness of their work.
“During my time here, I have seen increasing political will for improving accountability. Indeed, there are some reforms the government is making and they are putting forth effort to bring in the National Audit Chamber to strengthen their work. I feel like there is awareness and agreement that South Sudan needs to improve accountability,” said Leonard Kerezya, one of the Ugandan CSSO auditors.
The leadership of the National Audit Chamber says the IGAD Initiative is in line with their own internal commitment to capacity building and human resource development. Current economic constraints mean many challenges that the National Audit Chamber is facing will remain present in the immediate future, and the IGAD Initiative is addressing critical needs which cannot be replicated through domestic capacity alone. Eventually, though, the Auditor-General dreams of a self-sustaining institution, complete with an in-house training institute for auditing professionals.
“Our efforts may not be palatable to everyone at this moment but the current status quo cannot be the state we leave behind for the next generation,” said Amb. Wondu. “To make progress on good governance in South Sudan, it should be like athletics. You do your part in order to pass the baton, and to trust in the capabilities of the next runner. We strive to do our work and that this effort will allow younger people to inherit something of worth from us – a good, well-structured institution.”
The support from management and the commitment of staff is cited as one of the most encouraging aspects for the CSSOs working with the NAC.
“Our twins have been very cooperative. They try very hard, they face very intense challenges and yet every day they are willing to learn,” said Leky Samuel, a performance audit officer and Ugandan CSSO. He mentions that when there are fuel shortages and the NAC vehicles cannot operate, the auditors often go by foot to the ministries to perform their duties. On at least one occasion, a member of the NAC staff traveled for three hours in order to report to work.
Mr. Samuel, who comes from a community just over the border in Northern Uganda, spent time in his youth as a refugee in South Sudan. He said his motivation for joining the IGAD Initiative was for an opportunity to give back to country who helped him when he needed it.
“Deployment here has proved us exposure in handling challenges that are maybe not always present in our own countries but exist elsewhere,” said Mokili Franson Lomoro, a procurement auditor and fellow CSSO from Uganda. “It has also helped brush off any preconceived thinking about the capacities present here in South Sudan, or any idea that the people here don’t know anything. They do, but they, like anywhere else in the world, would benefit from building additional expertise and skills.”
Both the CSSOs and their counterparts in the NAC and the Ministry of Labour, Public Service, and Human Resource Development cite the South-South cooperation model of the IGAD Initiative as a major strength of the programme. The opportunity for South Sudanese, Ugandans, Kenyans, and Ethiopians to help and support each other, with the regional context they uniquely possess, makes integration into the institutions they are sent to support seamless and the results of their efforts more effective.
“In the future, I foresee the National Audit Chamber of South Sudan having something to offer our partners and other IGAD countries, like Uganda,” said Amb. Wondu, with an eye towards future iterations of the programme. “We can prepare ourselves to be helpful to the Ugandans by using our own experiences and expertise when they need it. We can have something to offer the region as well.”
The current batch of CSSOs working with the National Audit Chamber are scheduled to finish their deployments by mid-2017. The officers feel pressure to see through outstanding reports before completing their current cycle, a motivation that is driving them to the end.
“In our experience, this undertaking is not a one- or two-year-long activity,” said Mr. Kerezya. “There is no doubt in my mind that [our twins] need more support. Even in Uganda, when we started we had a longer process, a more continuous process, to comply with and operate to the standards of a Supreme Accountability Institution.”
The Ministry of Labour, Public Service, and Human Resource Development echoed this sentiment.
“The beauty of [the RSS/IGAD Initiative] programme is it goes beyond the traditional view, or the conventional wisdom, of skills transfer. We envision this growing and believe this project can very much continue to provide value to us,” said Hon. Itorong Deng, Advisor to the Minister of Labour, Public Service, and Human Resource Development and Coordinator of the RSS/IGAD Regional Initiative for Capacity Enhancement in South Sudan.
“To continue this project means the people win,” he insisted.