Ms. Helena Lindberg took office as Auditor General of Sweden in March 2017. She has previously been Director-General and Head of the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) and the Swedish Emergency Management Agency and the Swedish Rescue Services Agency. She was also Chair of the Organising Committee tasked with implementing the Government's decision to form the Civil Contingencies Agency.
Prior to this, she has held a number of different positions in the Swedish public sector, including at the Ministry of Defence. She has been a member of the Boards of the Swedish Defence University, the Swedish National Space Board and of the Swedish Standards Institute and has also held positions on several advisory councils, such as the Swedish Coast Guard’s advisory council.
Ms Lindberg has a law degree and has been Associate Judge in the Svea Court of Appeal. She is the Vice Chair of the INTOSAI Capacity Building Committee (CBC) and speaks Swedish, English, Spanish and French fluently. She is also a member of the advisory board of the Danish Auditor General.
Ms Lindberg is the first person to serve as a single Auditor General in close to 20 years. Following a reform of the legal framework for the Swedish National Audit Office, which came into force in April 2020, Parliament replaced the previous structure of a joint leadership by three Auditors General.
As SAIs around the world strive for transparency and effectiveness, often in increasingly challenging environments, organisations like IDI, INTOSAI regions, INTOSAI goal committees, working groups, certain member SAIs and other stakeholders often join forces to support SAIs in various ways.
Q1. SNAO is very active in international engagement with SAIs in several countries in Africa, South-East Europe and the Pacific, including SAIs in very challenging situations. What lessons have you learned from these partnerships?
Based on experience, we can identify some general key success factors in SAI capacity development which are well-known, such as the SAI leadership’s commitment, supporting the SAI’s strategic priorities and not someone else’s, building trust between partners, working long-term and being flexible enough to adjust to changing circumstances. Some pitfalls and challenges include over-commitment of resources or underestimating the time and effort required to achieve set goals, high turn-over of SAI staff and management in key positions, us not understanding the SAI’s context and not taking the whole organisation into consideration in the development efforts.
All of these aspects are important for any SAI’s development, but the more challenging the context, the more important these aspects become. For example, due to the unpredictability of the context, we need to think even more long-term in our partnerships, set realistic goals and be willing to adjust our plans depending on changing circumstances. SAI leadership committment is even more important, as the head of SAI is more likely to be undermined or even threatened in challenging environments. Setting realistic goals is always difficult, but even more so when working with ambitious and well-motivated collagues in such unpredictable circumstances.
Supporting SAIs in challenging contexts is often a balancing act, since the vulnerability in the country often severely affects the SAI, but at the same time lies beyond the reach of the SAI and its powers. However, in our experience, these might be the SAIs that are most willing to take on board international standards and best practices. The challenge is to find ways to support the SAI so that it in practice can audit the use of public monies and public undertakings and report to parliament. These SAIs can also, potentially, be change agents in the public financial management development in their country, which is yet another reason to support them.
All SAIs tend to benefit from working together and from sharing information and experiences. In the CBC workstream, Auditing in Complex and Challenging Contexts (ACCC), we build on the experiences of SAIs in particularily difficult situations and create a platform for SAIs to meet and discuss challenges and possible solutions uniquely adapted to their needs. This initiative has been greatly appreciated by the participants.
We see the SAI as an important cornerstone of developing a democratic society. We believe that supporting SAIs in very challenging contexts, can – in the long run – contribute to strengthening democracy through transparency and accountability of public sector institutions. However, when the SAI’s independence is undermined or threatened, their ability to play their role is severly restricted. And sometimes we must withdraw, due to circumstances that hinder or even make it impossible to support the development in a desired direction. Despite this, we still believe that we, when possible, should look for possibilities to support SAIs in challenging contexts.
Q2. In IDI, we cherish our partnerships with other organisations who share a common goal of strengthening SAIs. Based on your experience, what would you say are the key ingredients for partnering effectively?
In our efforts to support SAI capacity development through bilateral, regional and global efforts, we recognise the importance of partnering effectively, both inside and outside INTOSAI.
One challenge is to team up in such a way that it really supports the SAI, achieving the desired effect without the SAI’s partners driving the development process. In cases where a SAI has several partners, often funded by different donors, coordination is especially important to ensure that the support is complementary and that SAI resources are used effectively. Sometimes the coordination takes too much time and effort in relation to the output and outcome, for both the SAI and its partners. In our experience the SAI will usually benefit from limiting the number of partners, to avoid complications around coordination efforts.
When SAIs benefit from bilateral support at the same time as they participate in regional initiatives and IDI programmes, it is up to the SAI to coordinate all these inputs. There is always a risk that different people participate in different initiatives and, without effective coordination, this runs the risk of creating confusion rather than building capacity in the SAI. The better coordinated INTOSAI initiatives can be, the less pressure is put on the SAI. We can all probably be better at communicating with each other and inviting one another to coordination meetings and activities to keep everyone supporting the SAI in the loop.
The ideal situation is when different partners can complement one another to support the SAI. In several countries over the years, the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida) and the Swedish NAO have been able to support different aspects of the SAI. We have also been able to work with other donors, such as the UNDP in Zimbabwe, to fund IT equipment and other practical resources for the SAI which we normally do not provide.
Q3. In our delivery approach, IDI often works with and through INTOSAI regions. Swedish NAO is currently working to roll out a programme in PASAI with complementary cross-regional support from members of the AFROSAI-E regional secretariat. What have been your biggest takeaways from this initiative, and why is cooperating with INTOSAI regions important?
The Swedish NAO has worked with AFROSAI-E since the late 1980s, so we are a long-time friend of regional support, and working with PASAI is our most recent regional partnership. We see our regional partnerships as very strategic. As the regions are run by its members, initiatives are clearly owned by them and build on their needs. Building on this ownership, the Swedish NAO is not primarily rolling out programmes, but rather supporting our regional partner’s ability to strengthen capacity among its members.
One clear benefit of working with a region is that our support both builds capacity at a regional secretariat and at the same time reaches a great number of SAIs. When the regions are able to develop their own capacity to roll out initiatives, through training-of-trainers or regional champions and other initiatives, there is a great potential for growth in the region. Investing in the development of regional resources, such as manuals, guides, training materials, e-learning classes etc. is another way of contributing to both short-term development and long-term sustainability. If we manage to do these things well, together with the region, we can achieve more impact with less money.
We also have a valuable opportunity to learn about the region, about the challenges different SAIs face, and contribute to developing ways of sharing knowledge between the SAIs in a region. By doing this, the possibilities to offer interventions suited specifically for the region, increase. With these interventions we support the SAIs in a region to meet and draw from each other's experiences, and we contribute to building regional professional networks. An added benefit is that the networks remain long after our intervention has been concluded.
In our experience, regional initiatives offer SAIs both inspiration to learn from similar SAIs and positive collegial pressure in not wanting to be outdone by your neighbors. In that way the regional initiatives become leverage for further development in SAIs in the region.
Our partnership with PASAI combines all these positive aspects of working with a region. We are working together to strengthen HR strategies and operation, an area which the region has had difficulty finding support for. We support PASAI’s efforts to build both strategic and operational capacity in the region by supporting SAIs to develop strategies and operational plans, and by updating the HR Guide. But maybe most important of all; we support the development of a pool of HR Champions to be the long-term support in HR for the region. Also, the competence enhancement at the Secretariat in the HR area will be crucial for the long-term impact in the region, as many of the SAIs are too small to have large-scale HR departments with all the resources needed.
The Swedish NAO also sees great benefits with cooperation between regions. In the PASAI programme, we are grateful for the contribution from AFROSAI-E’s HR expert as well as from SAIs in the AFROSAI-E region. We truly believe that these contributions have benefitted the SAIs in PASAI, providing additional perspectives and building cross-regional networks. And hopefully, they have also served as a source of inspiration for our AFROSAI-E colleagues.
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