About the TPA INITIATIVE
The TPA INITIATIVE is a regional project that has brought together 17 civil society organizations (CSOs) from 13 different countries in Latin America under a shared common interest in fostering transparency, citizen participation and accountability practices (TPA) in Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs) for the purpose of contributing to the strengthening of public control systems in the region.
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Emerging experiences in Latin America and other countries show that increasing collaboration and interaction between SAIs–or other oversight agencies- and citizens help strengthen public control, especially in those situations in which the institutions suffer a lack of financial or political autonomy.
The TPA INITIATIVE endeavors to deepen dialogue and interaction between SAIs and CSOs, so that the latter may provide assistance and collaboration on those activities aimed at promoting an inclusive regional agenda –based on the highest standards fostered by OLACEFS- while dispensing greater legitimacy and public recognition on control agencies.
The Organization of Latin American and Caribbean Supreme Audit Institutions (OLACEFS) has recognized that transparency, citizen participation and accountability are key areas in which SAIs have yet to improve, and for this purpose, it has created standing committees devoted to these fields.
As a result of the XIX General Assembly, OLACEFS has deepened its commitment to TPA, as issued in the statement “Principles on Accountability” – Asuncion Declaration, which highlights the importance of citizenship as a central actor in the control and accountability system.
At the national level, Latin American SAIs have started to adopt TPA practices and mechanisms, whilst civil society has shown a growing interest in these themes. In the past years, several organizations have produced reports and publications on transparency, accountability and control issues, which highlight the potential implied in the cooperation between CSOs and oversight institutions. For instance, since SAIs have privileged access to governmental agencies, they can request, gather and check all the information needed to expeditiously assess administrative action. Besides, their staff displays high qualifications in auditing, not to mention the technical tools and financial resources SAIs can count on to perform their work. Regarding CSOs, they can complement and disseminate the results of the control carried out by SAIs by making the reports more comprehensible through plain language and by sharing that information through their contact network. This is especially true of those committed to research and public policy advocacy, given their proximity to the beneficiaries of state policies. Furthermore, specific experiences of citizen participation in audits have taken place in countries like Argentina, Colombia and Paraguay. For example, in Argentina they have proved effective and valuable in detecting irregularities in the provision of public services.
Summing up, Supreme Audit Institutions can benefit from the interaction with civil society. Not only does this relationship strengthen SAIs´ credibility and legitimacy, but also boosts the impact of their work, thus reinforcing the quality of management control.
In view of the above mentioned, the goal is to advance regional TPA standards in SAIs by generating consensus among stakeholders committed to oversight issues, such as officials working at control agencies, civil society organizations, academics and international organizations like INTOSAI and OLACEFS.
The TPA INITIATIVE´s achievements
The activities and products that the INITIATIVE has consolidated within the last year include the following:
1. INITIATIVE´s website : an interactive virtual space designed for sharing information about TPA, generating channels of dialogue with and between actors interested in oversight issues, promoting, and asissting those SAIs interested in investigating the diferent legal and cultural frameworks, strengths, weaknesses and opportunities of existing TPA practices implemented by regional SAIs, and communicating the advancements on the INITIATIVE’s agenda.
2. “Diagnostic Report on Transparency, Citizen Participation and Accountability in Supreme Audit Institutions of Latin America”: Published in June 2011, this is a regional study whose objective is to map the situation in the region, by documenting existing TPA practices implemented by the SAIs of different countries. To access the English translation of the document, click here. To see the English abstract, click here. (To see the Spanish version, click here. )
The survey of information was compiled by both interviews with staff at SAIs and beneficiaries of the entities work, and through reviewing institutional publications such as audit reports, management reports, newsletters and websites. In addition, research was carried out by checking academic and journalistic publications, as well as policy documents and statements on international TPA standards issued by organizations that group the SAIs (OLACEFS, OCCEFS, INTOSAI), among other sources.
3. Documentation of TPA Best Practices in the regional SAIs: a series of case studies carried out by some INITIATIVE´s organizations about the implementation of successful TPA practices in the SAIs of their respective countries (Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico and Paraguay).
Through revision of the Diagnostic Report, and in view of contributing to the dissemination of TPA best practices implemented by some regional SAIs, it was noticeable that some of them stood out due to their innovation, sustainability and flexibility, characteristics which make them feasible to be replicated by other SAIs. Those practices were selected for documentation, a task which was performed by the INITIATIVE´s local CSOs, in close collaboration with SAI officials involved in the incorporation and development of those TPA mechanisms.
This documentation aims to build a detailed archive on how to implement TPA best practices, pointing out which difficulties should be sorted out and what benefits are perceived from their development, so that those SAIs interested in incorporating some of these practices in their respective countries can count on certain tools when thinking of the most appropriate design for their particular context.
4. “Audit Institutions in Latin America. Transparency, Citizen Participation and Accountability Indicators” (see HERE in Spanish).
This report synthesizes internationally recognized standards regarding transparency and access to information, citizen participation, accountability and performance, and translates them into concrete indicators. These indicators are then applied to subnational audit institutions across a broad cross-section of Latin American countries, including Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico. Based on the results obtained, the document makes a series of specific recommendations for improvements in those areas where deficiencies were noted and provides general proposals applicable to all of the subnational agencies which would allow them to enhance their public image and maximize their performance through the implementation of policies which foster transparency, citizen participation and accountability.
In sum, this report aims to support audit institutions – both national and subnational – in their efforts to plan, implement and evaluate policies that improve their connection with average citizens, increase transparency, facilitate access to the information that they produce and aid better communication with the potential beneficiaries of their monitoring role. It also aspires to make a contribution toward the generation of precise regional standards which can then be used as guidelines for future actions of OLACEFS, INTOSAI, and other regional and international bodies.
5. “Information Technologies and Public Oversight in Latin America. Contributions and Best Practices for the Strengthening of Supreme Audit Institution Websites” (see HERE in Spanish).
This report seeks to make a contribution towards improving the public profile and transparency of the region’s audit institutions. Presented in the form of a user manual for institutional websites, it provides tools for audit officials allowing them to take full advantage of the available platforms for communication and citizen dialogue.
As expressed in the Fourth Principle of the Asunción Declaration (OLACEFS, 2009), the intensive use of technology and new communication media by audit institutions facilitates effective access to information and lowers transaction costs, allowing for a more efficient and transparent public administration.
Based on detailed review of international standards regarding transparency and access to information in public institutions and best practices from SAI websites in Latin America, this report outlines the minimum contents that these websites should include as well as some general suggestions about the best way to communicate information to a non-specialist public. In addition to presenting tools to increase the interactivity and navigability based on concrete cases from successful SAI websites, a special section of the report focuses on strategies to facilitate access to information for citizens with disabilities.
6. “When Supreme Audit Institutions engage with civil society: Exploring lessons from the Latin American Transparency Participation and Accountability Initiative”, Renzo Lavin and Carolina Cornejo (Civil Association for Equality and Justice) and Aranzazu Guillan (U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre), December 2013. See HERE.
The Transparency, Participation and Accountability Initiative illustrates emerging partnerships between audit institutions and citizens, and highlights the benefits and challenges of a cooperative approach for engaging with public officials. The Initiative has created a space for collaboration between civil society organisations and Supreme Audit Institutions in Latin America. It has become a valuable partner for audit institutions and has helped create regional consensus on the legitimacy of transparency and participation mechanisms in audit. However, enhancing the impact of this collaboration requires working with other actors, making the audit process relevant to citizens, and coordinating efforts with development partners.
The TPA INITIATIVE´s agenda
In late August 2011, a three-day meeting was held in Buenos Aires among the members of the TPA INITIATIVE. On the second day, the CSOs exchanged views and perspectives with the SAI members of the OLACEFS Technical Accountability Committee, who were discussing the guidelines for the committee’s working plan to be submitted to the Organization’s General Assembly.
On that occasion, right after the INITIATIVE´s presentation, organizations and Supreme Audit Institutions discussed various mechanisms for citizen participation and policies to approach civil society. The SAIs highlighted the importance of reinforcing the dissemination and implementation of the principles fostered by the Asuncion Declaration, particularly with regard to the value of incorporating citizen participation practices.
As a result of the meeting, the INITIATIVE’s members reaffirmed our goals and drew out the guidelines for the future agenda, which will be based on the following points:
Deepening the debate on TPA among SAIs and OLACEFS and promoting strategic collaboration
In view of expanding knowledge and exchanging experiences on TPA practices, the Initiative has taken part in several forums gathering SAIs, OLACEFS Commissions, and civil society. Since 2011, Initiative members have attended meetings with regional stakeholders to present the results of the studies on TPA, and has put forward recommendations on how to increase transparency and promote interaction between SAIs and citizenship.
Along 2013, the Initiative has joined the summit of the three commissions in Paraguay, in a seminar chaired by the Comptrollers General.
Furthermore, representatives from CSOs from the Initiative have become members of OLACEFS’ Network of Institutions for the Strengthening of External Control. The commitment of key SAIs to the TPA agenda has led to further opportunities to develop the “demand side” for independent auditing, and to assist SAIs willing to undertake TPA reform. In this sense, the Initiative has backed SAIs interested in promoting and improving participatory mechanisms:
These experiences are just a few examples of how interaction between SAIs and civil society can build sustainable bonds in view of strengthening external control and making SAIs´ work visible. Similar experiences can be replicated by other institutions, not only at the national level but also by subnational audit agencies.