High-level meeting Sharaka

Speech by Mr Arno Visser, President of the Netherlands Court of Audit at the High-level meeting Sharaka, 7 October 2018, The Hague.

Your excellency the President of the Court of Accounts of Algeria, Mr. Abdelkader Benmarouf,
Your excellency the Vice-President of the Board of Supreme Audit of Iraq, Dr. Alaa H. Kadum,
Your excellency the President of the Audit Bureau of Jordan, Dr. Abed Kharabsheh,
Your excellency the Vice-President of the Court of Auditors of the Kingdom of Morocco, Mr. Mohammed Essaouabi,
Your excellency the Auditor-General of the State Audit and Administrative Control Bureau of the Palestinian Authority, Mr. Iyad Tayyem, 
Your excellency the Auditor-General of the national Auditing Chamber of Sudan, Mr. El Tahir Abdelghayoum Ibrahim Malik, 
Your excellency the President of the Court of Accounts of Tunisia, Mr. Nejib Gtari,
Distinguished representatives of the SAI’s of Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco, the Palestinian Authority, Sudan and Tunisia,
Esteemed Colleagues of the Netherlands Court of Audit,

A welcome like this, very official as I just did, is actually quite unusual in the Netherlands. We are known for dealing very informally with each other, even in a professional context.

This morning, when I entered the building, my staff welcomed me by saying: ‘hi Arno’! A couple of weeks ago I attended the presentation of the memoirs of our former Finance minister mr Dijsselbloem. The prime minister, mr Rutte, was officially offered the first book. The editor started that gathering with cabinet members saying: “Hi Mark, hi Jeroen, good to see you”. 

The Dutch are indeed not a very hierarchical species. We deal with each other very informally. It might be influenced by our geography. We are The Netherlands, the low countries: completely flat and largely below sea level. 

So, our staff calls me by my first name. It’s perfectly allright.

Whatever our habits, I think it is always best to speak from the heart. So also on behalf of my colleagues Francine Giskes and Ewout Irrgang: Ahlan wa Sahlan (welkom in Arabisch).

In the international context, cultural differences like these can sometimes lead to surprise or incomprehension. That is very understandable. There are, of course, many differences amongst us in the way we communicate, in many areas.

Yet, we do want to understand each other. We want to avoid misunderstandings. So, we look for a lingua franca, a common language. 

As it comes to accounting, it turns out that our common language, long ago, originated with you!

We all speak the auditor’s language, and to a large extent we express ourselves with numbers.

The very first writings originated with the Sumerians, in present-day Iraq. What did they write down? Essentially their accounting. They wrote to record transactions, appointments and inventories. 
So, the first writing was actually accountancy.

And the numbers that we still use today have been passed on to us by the Arabs, as you know. 

In the year 1202, Leonardo Fibonacci, a mathematician born in the Republic of Pisa who had studied accountancy in Algeria, promoted the numeral system in Europe with his book ‘Liber Abaci’. 

He wrote:
My father, who had been appointed by his country as public notary in the customs at Bugia (in Algeria), desired me to stay there and receive instruction in the school of accounting. 
There, when I had been introduced to the art of the nine symbols, through remarkable teaching, knowledge of the art very soon pleased me above all else and I came to understand it.

Dear colleagues,
It is good to see you again.
Almost 2 years ago, I spoke to you at the official launch of our Sharaka programme in Abu Dhabi. And by the way, I should mention: our colleagues from Sudan were not yet there at the time, so a special welcome to you!
In my speech I gave an account of the history of cooperation between SAI’s from the ARBOSAI region, starting about 25 years ago with a cooperation project with the SAI of Yemen. 

From 2005 onward there had been several bilateral institutional cooperation projects with the SAIs of Tunisia, Iraq and Jordan, to much mutual benefit. There was a history on which we could start to build.
And so, we started our Sharaka programme in 2016. Our goal: 
To work together as SAIs to strengthen good governance and public financial management, accountability and transparency in line with the international auditing standards (ISSAIs) - thus contributing to the effectiveness of public services in the respective countries.
Today, with 2 years behind us and another 3 years to come, we can already say: again, we made history.
Just 2 weeks ago, the Netherlands Court of Audit participated in the midterm review for the bilateral cooperation with Tunisia. Midterm reviews in Morocco and Iraq have already been planned in the near future. 
We were able to get a clear picture of the state of affairs in these fields. Generally, the review was very positive! We know which themes are on schedule and on which themes we can do some more work.
Integrity and the UN SDGs have been a focus of our Sharaka cooperation. 
Doing the IntoSAINT self-evaluation has helped to identify integrity vulnerabilities and to balance these with effective controls so as to safeguard from integrity breaches, which would put reputation and authority at risk. 
The SDG's are the world's roadmap up to 2030. Last June, we had the opportunity to host the Sharaka conference on SAIs and the SDG’s. The conference focused on how we, as external auditor, can help our respective governments to implement the SDG’s. What is our added value?

Lingua Franca

Dear guests, ladies and gentlemen,
Half way into the Sharaka programme, it is also a good time to take a look at the horizon. How does the Sharaka project fit within our ambitions and mission? 
And what kind of lingua franca do we share already?
We share values such as transparency. 
We share a similar constitutional role in our respective countries. 
We share our quest in giving our citizens insight in their government’s spending. 
We have the ISSAI as our guiding principles.
With so much in common, a lingua franca can help us work better and share our experiences. These provide something like a common language.

The private sector for example has their International Financial Reporting Standards, IFRS. These standards help all stakeholders worldwide: shareholders, accountants and supervisors alike. They can analyse, communicate and form opinions based on a common set of rules. 
What do WE have? What can we develop to help us make our research result comparable, with regard to judgment on efficiency and effectiveness? 
In my opinion, we should look further, towards a common language such as the IFRS. 
And we should, I feel strongly about this, explore the possibilities of integrated reporting.
That will help us to compare our audit findings so we can analyse, communicate and form opinions.
For inspiration, let me take you to South Africa, less than thirty years ago:
The abolition of Apartheid did not immediately bring equality and justice. The next step was to make the economy accessible to all residents of South Africa.

In order to realize this, Professor Mervyn King was commissioned in 1992 to lead a committee to draw up a 'good governance code' for the South African business community. The code had to lead to a more inclusive economy and formed the basis of a development towards an integrated way of doing business and reporting. Not only in South Africa, but also in the rest of the world.
What is integrated reporting? As it says on the IIRC website:
'Integrated reporting principles and concepts are focused on achieving greater cohesion and efficiency in the reporting process, and adopting' integrated thinking 'as a way of breaking down internal silos and reducing duplication. 
It improves the quality and availability of financial capital to enable a more efficient and productive allocation of capital. 
It is focus on value creation, and the 'capitals' are used to create value over time, contributes towards a more financially stable global economy.' 
That special history of 'integrated reporting' was made clear to me when I visited the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC) in London. 
But to my surprise, I was also told that it is mainly the business community that uses the instrument, and hardly the public sector. Only in Australia and New Zealand is the government also serious about it, I was told. 

While you would think that politics and government are primarily interested in creating value in the broadest sense of the word.
It would be interesting to establish the connection between the use of public money, the policy, the measures that are taken and the social effects to be achieved. 
A development so to keep an eye on; integrated reporting by the government.

So, dear colleagues, let me finish:
One of the main objectives of this meeting is to reflect on our cooperation and achieved results. Furthermore we would like to discuss the way forward: the 3rd theme of our regional Sharaka cooperation. 
I am confident that we will have inspiring meetings and talks together and with interesting stakeholders, such as the Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, Members of Parliament, the Ombudsman, etc.
We will have exchanges in many fields and learn from each other. For instance on booking systems like accrual accounting and public financial management, or indeed on integrated reporting.
We need to keep developing our common language, so that we can compare our results. 
I hope that, in this week, we will have fruitful discussions and that we will make another step forward in finding our lingua franca. 
And perhaps- let me stress the word ‘perhaps’ – next time I will welcome you by your first names as well. 
Thank you.