International cooperation between Supreme Audit Institutions – the role of the Belgian Court of Audit
In almost all countries in Europe and around the world, institutions are responsible for the external audit of public finances and in charge of missions comparable to those of the Belgian Court of Audit. These institutions have developed cooperation relations at international level in the decades following World War II. They also maintain bilateral cooperation links.
The Belgian Court of Audit participates on a selective basis in this international cooperation, which provides it the opportunity to address issues of common interest, exchange good practices and keep apprised of the latest evolutions in the field of auditing and professional standards. International cooperation also allows the Court to selectively contribute to the development of international professional standards and to carry out joint audits in specific policy areas. In this way, cooperation helps to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the SAIs as instruments of transparency and sound management within the public sector.
Cooperation with the European Court of Auditors (ECA)
The Belgian Court of Audit works primarily with the ECA, the external auditor of the European Union finances.
The major missions of the ECA consist in
- examining the accounts of all revenue and expenditure of the European Union and, unless otherwise provided, of all bodies set up by the Union;
- checking the legality and regularity of the EU revenue and expenditure and ensuring sound financial management;
- drawing up an annual report presenting its observations on the implementation of the EU budget and on the annual Statement of Assurance (DAS) as to the reliability of the EU accounts and the legality and regularity of the underlying transactions;
- submitting, if needed, its commentary on specific topics through special reports and delivering opinions at the request of another institution of the Union;
- assisting the Parliament and the Council of the European Union in monitoring the implementation of the EU budget.
The European Commission is responsible for implementing the EU budget. The EU spends most of its budget on agriculture and structural actions for which funds are managed and controlled in cooperation with the EU Member States. According to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (Article 287, 3), “the European Court of Auditors and the national audit bodies of the Member States shall cooperate in a spirit of trust while maintaining their independence”. The Treaty also states that the ECA’s inspections in the Member States shall be carried out in liaison with the national audit institutions or any other competent national body.
In practice, the auditors of the Belgian Court of Audit attend as observers the ECA’s inspection visits to Belgium. They provide the auditors of the ECA with specific knowledge of the national control environment.
Cooperation at European Union level
The Contact Committee of the Heads of Supreme Audit Institutions of the European Union is the most important consultation body between the audit institutions of the Member States and the European Court of Auditors. The Contact Committee commits itself to foster dialogue and cooperation in the course of audits and audit-related activities. It shall establish and promote common positions on emerging topics related to audits and accountability. Finally, it shall support the audit institutions that are part of the Contact Committee and those of the countries concerned by the EU enlargement policy.
The EU Liaison Officers of the national audit institutions and the ECA meet throughout the year in order to prepare the Contact Committee meetings and build an active network of professional contacts. The Contact Committee sets up working groups on both overall and specific topics of common interest.
The International Organisation of Supreme Audit Institutions, which maintains an institutional link with the United Nations, has approximately 200 members. One of its main missions is to develop and update the international professional standards for audit institutions. INTOSAI works mainly within thematic committees, subcommittees and specialised working groups.
The Belgian Court of Audit participates in high-level meetings. For two decades, it has mainly been active in the INTOSAI Subcommittee on Internal Control Standards, which falls under the Professional Standards Committee. The Subcommittee drafts international guidelines on the management of organisations (internal control) and internal audit in the public sector. The Court also participates in the Working Group on Big Data. Besides, the Court regularly exchanges information on topics of common interest and comments on certain draft INTOSAI standards.
The European Organisation of Supreme Audit Institutions has 50 members. While INTOSAI develops professional standards for the SAIs, EUROSAI mainly guides them in the implementation of these standards, e.g. through international training courses. In addition, EUROSAI organises and gives structure to the exchange of information between SAIs on the audit methods and results and to their cooperation in auditing matters. EUROSAI is also very active within thematic working groups.
The Belgian Court of Audit regularly participates in high-level meetings. It was also a member of the EUROSAI Governing Board between 2011 and 2017. Furthermore, it was responsible for a number of specific missions during the implementation of the organisation’s strategic plan. It has contributed for many years to the EUROSAI’s standing working groups on Information Technologies and Environmental Auditing. It regularly exchanges information on topics of common interest within EUROSAI. Staff members of the Belgian Court of Audit often take part in international training courses on audit practices organised by EUROSAI.
Besides, they sometimes participate in specialised international training courses outside the above-mentioned international associations.
Cooperation between French-speaking SAIs
Aisccuf (Association des institutions supérieures de contrôle des finances publiques ayant en commun l’usage du français)
The Belgian Court of Audit has been managing the association’s treasury since its creation and takes part in its meetings.
Audit of international organisations
The Belgian Court of Audit is responsible – most of the time together with other SAIs – for the external audit of some international organisations, usually for a specific term.
The Belgian Court of Audit has close connections with sister institutions in neighbouring countries, first and foremost with the SAIs of the Netherlands (Algemene Rekenkamer) and France (Cour des comptes). The Court exchanges information and cooperate with both SAIs, sometimes through joint audits in specific policy areas.
Besides, the Court regularly receives delegations from foreign SAIs and parliaments for short study visits.
Once in a while, it also hosts delegations from international organisations.