Role of SAIs in implementation of Sustainable Development Goals

Role of SAIs in implementation of Sustainable Development Goals

J.R. Inamdar and Sunil Dadhe – SAI India

1. Introduction

The concept of ‘development’ has evolved over years and reached a stage where it has become synonymous with sustainable development. Over the past quarter-century there has been impressive progress on many fronts in human development, with people living longer, more people rising out of extreme poverty and fewer people being malnourished. Human development has enriched human lives, but unfortunately not to the same extent. Recognising consequent challenges, world leaders, in 2015, adopted the 2030 Agenda “for transforming our world”. This agenda – enshrined in 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – commits to a development journey that leaves no one out.

Sustainable Development Goals adopted under 2030 Agenda comprise 17 goals and 169 agreed targets to replace the 8 goals and 21 targets that constituted Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Effective follow-up and review is critical for the achievement of SDGs. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development devotes 18 paragraphs to the importance of a systematic follow-up and review[1] of the implementation of the Agenda, its roles, objectives, and guiding principles. This extensive elaboration of follow-up and review is exceptional considering the absence of such framework in the MDGs. Effective governance is also essential for building confidence in public sector entities – which is in itself necessary if public sector entities are to be effective in meeting their objectives.[2] Features of SDG framework and significance of review / follow up mechanism inherent in SDGs creates a need for SAIs to play a proactive role in reporting on progress in achieving SDGs.

SAIs are credible institutions which provide valuable information in easy-to-read and accessible reports on efficiency, accountability, effectiveness and transparency of public administration and a fair view of the financial situation of the state. This mandate of SAIs places them in a unique position to report on the progress made by nations in achieving SDGs.

[1] Originally referred to in the early stages of negotiation on the post-2015 development agenda as “monitoring and accountability”.
[2] (International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) Corporate Governance in the Public Sector: A Governing Body Perspective, 2001).

2. Initiatives of Global SAI Community

Adoption of Agenda 2030 has widened responsibilities of SAIs due to the emphasis on review and follow up mechanism adopted in the Agenda. INTOSAI has long been focussing on many areas of SDGs such as helping fight corruption, safeguarding public asset and sustainable development including environment, health, education, etc. The INTOSAI Strategic Plan 2017-22 envisages the role of SAIs in “Contributing to the follow up and review of the SDGs within the context of each nation’s specific sustainable development efforts.” At the XXIIth INCOSAI at Abu Dhabi, Mr. Wu Hongbo United Nations’ Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs stated that Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs) – independent public bodies mandated to ensure the proper and effective use of public funds using a variety of auditing techniques – have an important role to play in achieving the goals set out in the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (the SDGs).

3. Approaches to audit of SDGs

The INTOSAI believes that individual SAIs can contribute to SDGs by providing advice, through assurance engagements and by conducting performance audits and reviews. The SAIs are also expected to contribute by leading by example in being models of transparency and accountability. The following diagram illustrates the role of SAIs at various stages of implementation of Agenda 2030.


Diagram 1: Role of Supreme Audit Institutions in implementation of Agenda 2030


INTOSAI has planned to support and encourage its member SAIs by:

  • Awareness raising and advocacy
  • Aggregating results of SAI work done in this area
  • Providing methodological support

The INTOSAI discussed this issue in the XXIIth INCOSAI and came up with four pronged approach towards audit of SDGs by individual SAIs. The four approaches are as mentioned in the Diagram 2:


Diagram 2: Four Approaches for audit of Sustainable Development Goals

The SAI community has thus given due prominence to assessing national systems of follow up and majority of SAIs are doing this audit as a simultaneous Co-operative audit worldwide. Assessing the preparedness of national governments to implement, monitor and report on progress of the SDGs, and subsequently audit their operation and reliability of the data they produce has been included within the scope of first approach. The cooperative audit is also planned to be conducted from ‘whole-of-government’ perspective. At this early stage of implementation SAIs are focussing on assessing progress made by the governments in preparing for the implementation, follow-up and review of the SDGs. Key aspects of this audit approach are:

  • Conducting a baseline review of the preparedness of governments to implement, follow-up and review the SDGs;
  • Conducting ISSAI based performance audits of the preparedness of governments to implement, follow-up and review the SDGs;
  • Subsequently conduct different types of audits of implementation of SDGs;
  • Monitoring and evaluating whether the systems established and used by governments for tracking and reporting progress against the SDGs are fit for purpose; and
  • Auditing, at a later stage, key processes of follow-up and review and potentially providing assurance on the reliability of the monitoring data at a national level.

The second approach is about how SAIs can use their performance audit framework to review, guide and report on matters relating to the SDGs. Audit results could be aggregated regionally as well as globally by applying a standard ‘audit findings framework’. SAIs are trying to harvest the outcome from all different types of performance audits that are conducted by them on matters related to SDGs. SAI Brazil has worked on this framework and it has been concluded at INCOSAI that SAIs can get a more in-depth understanding of the challenges to achieve progress against SDGs by analysing the results of performance audits and aggregating the results. The revised ‘audit findings framework’ is likely to be put in place for this purpose.

The third approach focuses on the role of SAIs in supporting the achievement of Goal 16 related to the building of ‘effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels’. The broad and complex issue of “good governance” is at the core of SDG 16. Helping national governments fight corruption and safeguard public assets has long been a major focus of INTOSAI and individual SAIs. SAIs can contribute by reviewing transparency, risk management, anti-fraud protections and internal control processes to contribute to corruption prevention efforts consistent with the United Nations Convention against Corruption.

The fourth approach is about how SAIs can be models of transparency and accountability in the way they are organised and run. SAIs need to “walk the talk” and lead by example in demonstrating good governance. The ISSAI 12 about ‘the Value and Benefits of Supreme Audit Institutions – making a difference to the lives of citizens’ also envisages demonstrating ongoing relevance to citizens, Parliament and other stakeholders through being responsive to the change and being a model organisation through ‘leading by example’. Taking forward this principle, SAIs could adapt appropriate performance measurement framework and voluntarily disclose their performance with or without the condition of anonymity for the external stakeholders like United Nations in case of implementation of SDGs.

4. Regional Scenario for implementation of SDGs


The countries of Asia and the Pacific have developed a regional road map for implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to facilitate cooperation at the regional level supported by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) Secretariat and other United Nations entities. The road map was agreed during the 4th Asia-Pacific Forum for Sustainable Development (APFSD) and subsequently endorsed by the ESCAP Member States during ESCAP’s 73rd Commission Session. The road map identifies priority areas of regional cooperation for implementation of the 2030 Agenda. These priority areas underline the major challenges still faced in the region, including leaving no one behind; disaster risk reduction and resilience; climate change; management of natural resources; connectivity; and, energy. Priority actions under the means of implementation for the 2030 Agenda are also identified in the road map, including data and statistics, technology, finance, policy coherence and partnerships.

5. Challenges before SAIs in auditing SDGs

Challenges in the audit of implementation of SDGs relate to SAI’s legal and institutional framework, governance value system, readiness of the national system and availability of data. Mandates of SAIs differ with regard to the types of audits conducted, duties and functions, confidentiality, reporting and power to publish their reports. Stronger SAIs with appropriate audit jurisdiction and independence could conduct audit on the implementation of SDGs more effectively. The national system on the implementation of SDGs must be in place as a pre-requisite for effective audit and relevant data must be available, valid and reliable. Technical competence and capabilities of SAI personnel would also be an important challenge.

6. Experience in India

India attaches importance to the Sustainable Development Goals. Country’s national development goals as envisaged in various policies and programmes are mirrored in the SDGs. The National Institution for Transforming India (NITI Aayog), a policy ‘Think Tank’ of the government has been assigned the role of overseeing the implementation of SDGs while the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MoSPI) is responsible for evolving indicators. NITI Aayog has engaged various stakeholders in consultations for majority of SDGs at various occasions. It has mapped SDGs with various programmes of the government and identified nodal national ministries for individual SDGs. The provincial governments are also encouraged to follow similar process. Union Government is also in the process of finalising indicators for SDG targets. Draft Three Year Action Agenda for 2017 – 2020 was recently released. In parallel, work on 15 year Vision and 7 year Strategy Document is in advanced stages. These documents are expected to reflect national aspirations within the framework of SDGs. Indian government has also completed the Voluntary National Review of 2017.

SAI India is actively engaging in the capacity building activity and knowledge sharing at national and international level. In the biennial conference of Accountants General (Heads of audit offices in SAI India) in October 2016, a paper titled ‘Auditing Programmes related to SDGs’ was discussed.  Based on the recommendations of this conference, International Centre for Environment Audit and Sustainable Development (iCED) is tasked with a major capacity building exercise to prepare SAI India for auditing SDGs. iCED in turn organised a national stakeholder seminar on “Assessing Preparedness to achieve Sustainable Development Goals” on 24 June 2017. SAI India is also participating in the cooperative audit of preparedness of SDGs.

7. Conclusion

Through their oversight and control functions, SAIs can play a fundamental role in guaranteeing accountable and effective governance for sustainable development. Capable and independent SAIs can make a substantial contribution to the follow up and review of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at national, regional and global level. SAIs should engage with other players such as Heads of governments, government agencies, institutions of higher learning, donors and international organisations including INTOSAI and its regional groups.  Transparent reporting and effective follow up mechanisms are important for SAIs to be a model institution of transparency and accountability. In the context of audit of implementation of SDGs, transparent reporting against planned outcomes would help the governments to be accountable for the fiscal actions. The principles outlined in the ISSAIs must be applied with the required resources in terms of sufficient budget, qualified staff with moral integrity, proper audit tools, etc. Full attention should continue to be given to capacity development, knowledge sharing, knowledge transfers and capacity building.



The role of Supreme Audit Institutions in ensuring effective implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Environmental Federalism: A Roadmap for Climate Responsive Budgeting (CRB) in India by Lekha Chakraborty. INTOSAI and the Sustainable Development Goals. The Role of
Supreme Audit institutions Advancing Sustainable and Inclusive Development Role of supreme audit institutions in implementing the post-2015 development agenda UNGA resolution on SAIs The role of Supreme Audit Institutions in promoting transparency and accountability to contribute to the implementation of the Post-2015 Development Agenda




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