Enhancing relevance and impact through rapid, responsive audits
In a fast-moving, dynamic and complex world, Supreme Audit Institutions have a duty to enhance their relevance and ensure they make a positive impact to the benefit of their stakeholders. This can require new solutions to challenges, for example a new style of audit when traditional financial, compliance and performance audits might struggle to respond sufficiently quickly to new or emerging issues. Following the UK National Audit Office, the Netherlands Court of audit introduced and developed a rapid and responsive audit function.
Why do we use this method?
This type of audit enables us to increase our adaptability, conduct research within a shorter lead time (14 weeks), respond to current or emerging issues (e.g. COVID-19) and provide facts to the public debate. Without the inclusion of any conclusions and/or recommendations, our focus audits allow readers to form their own opinion based on facts from our report. Not only do our own colleagues recognize the added value of this product, the short reports with a defined research question are also well received by the media and Members of Parliament.
What does this method involve?
A focus investigation is topical, fast, focused, factual, concise and descriptive.
Topical: Focus audits look at relevant and topical issues.
Fast: To be topical, focus audits are carried out relatively quickly: at most 14 weeks from start to publication.
Focused: Focus audits have a defined scope and a clear focus. This is reflected in the research question, which is usually, ‘Is it true that…?’ (fact check).
Factual: We exercise our powers in order to bring the facts of a topical discussion to light. We therefore report only the facts (in context) and do not express any opinions and/or recommendations.
Concise and explanatory: Focus audits culminate in concise, explanatory and clear reports.
In 2022 the Dutch government budgeted just over €500 million for the Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (COA). In the course of the year, however, it became clear that the COA would need an additional billion euros because the number of asylum seekers and the costs incurred for them were far higher than foreseen. This is not the first time the Netherlands has had problems with the reception of asylum seekers. The COA’s expenditure has been higher than budgeted in 21 of 23 years investigated by the Netherlands Court of Audit. Why is this? The Court’s investigation places the current reception problems in a multiyear perspective.
The Netherlands Court of Audit has investigated the government’s strategic stocks and their availability during an emergency. The government keeps operational and strategic stocks of petroleum, medicines, medical aids and cash money. It does not keep strategic stocks of gas or food. Furthermore, little progress has been made with the designation of national groundwater reserves.
The Tax and Customs Administration’s approach to false self-employment in the engagement of specialists in various business sectors is meeting with little success. The Administration is making fewer and fewer checks regarding the engagement of self-employed persons. The likelihood that false self-employment will be detected is low.
Between July and October 2020, the Netherlands Court of Audit investigated what ICT tools are used by the staff of ministries and High Councils of State, for what purpose they were used, the security risks they represented and how the organisations concerned communicated their policies. Our investigation found that civil servants’ use of collaborative ICT tools sometimes put information security at risk.
The report explains the key figures, such as national income, that are used to calculate a member state’s contribution to the European Union. It outlines how the current EU funding system came into being and led to different definitions of the net payment position. It also considers the effect of the Netherlands’ contribution rebate.
Reporting only facts, we showed that Sint Maarten needs more than just financial support for its reconstruction following the devastating hurricanes Irma and Maria in September 2017. These hurricanes inflicted a great deal of human suffering and enormous damage to the island’s infrastructure, housing and businesses.
The cost of generating offshore wind energy is projected to fall spectacularly. Offshore wind farms were still a long way from being subsidy-free, however. These findings are presented in the Court of Audit’s focus investigation of the cost of offshore wind energy.
An audit of access to long-term care. This focus audit looked at the facts surrounding access to long-term care under the Long-Term Health Care Act (WLZ). Many conflicting stories have been spun from various studies, media reports and debates in parliament. Concerns include the complexity of access and the different responsibilities of central government and the municipalities and care insurers.
We investigated how much time passes between the moment someone makes a report and the moment the police begin to deal with it. We also looked at whether the response was slower in rural areas than in urban areas, and whether the response was slower in the summer.