The Malta Independent 4 December 2020, Friday

‘Agility and resilience are vital in for Europe to overcome Covid-19 challenges’ – NAO Joint Seminar

Karl Azzopardi Wednesday, 18 November 2020, 13:48 Last update: about 15 days ago

Agility and resilience were the two key words that Maltese Member of the European Court of Auditors (ECA) Leo Brincat emphasised in order for Europe to recover and overcome the challenges that the Covid-19 pandemic posed. 

Brincat was speaking during a Joint Seminar on Wednesday which the National Audit Office (NAO) hosted in collaboration with the ECA with the theme ‘Responding to the Covid-19 Pandemic – The Audit Perspective.’ The main objective of the seminar was to have a useful exchange of experiences as to how the ECA, NAO and the Internal Audit and Investigations Department (IAID) managed to adapt to new work situations while ensuring the production of high-quality audits in line with international standards. 

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During his opening address, Auditor General Charles Deguara said that resilience and flexibility were two crucial factors that enabled NAO staff to adapt as best as possible to the new situation, necessitating the use of telework and virtual meetings. 

He explained that with a few exceptions such as fieldwork that required the physical presence of auditors, the NAO’s work continued to be performed through remote access. This allowed the Office to keep working on its objective such as the 2020 Audit Plan which is practically finalised and is set to be issued by mid-December, when Parliament adjourns for Christmas. 

With regards to teleworking Deguara said that the NAO is investing heavily in enhancing the Office’s technical infrastructure so as to guarantee a safe and robust system when working away from the office, including VPN facility for all staff, acquiring a new telephony system and providing a modern web HR module. He also emphasised the importance to focus on the role of managers and help them develop the necessary sensitivity to the needs of their team members when working from home. 

“We need to focus on making the best use of its (teleworking’s) advantages as well as taking the necessary action to mitigate its disadvantages. In a post Covid-19 world this would ensure that a mixed system enables the NAO to meet its work exigencies and targets and our staff to meet their personal aspirations by having an enhanced work-life balance.” 

In his keynote speech, ECA Maltese Member Brincat said resilience and agility are crucial for Europe to overcome the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. The biggest challenge during this crisis was finding new methods and practices that would speed up decision- making processes. 

He explained that the ECA had to adjust the scope, approach and timing of a number of ongoing tasks while deciding to discontinue some tasks initially planned to start this year. 

“We added two new reviews to the programme; one on EU’s contribution to the public health and another on its economic policy response to the coronavirus pandemic,” Brincat said. This was done with one primary aim in mind; contribute to public discussion on how the EU and its Member States have dealt with the effects of the pandemic as well as the lessons-learned exercise and the debate on the role of the EU and its entities during this and future crises. 

“All those who thought that we could carry on in a business-as-usual mode must have surely been in denial. In my view the massive change associated with the coronavirus is that of constantly needing to accelerate changes to foster the values upon which our public audit function and mission is built,” he noted. 

This calls for all auditors to think of ecosystems, that is, how all the parts fit together rather than separate units which requires agility and resilience. “These must be core management and financial properties for all of us,” he said, making reference to the need for digital transformation which sees great potential for sustainability. 

Swedish Member of the ECA Eva Lindstorm homed in on the topic of digitisation and emphasised that sustainability is about preparedness. “If we want to achieve the SDGs and the green inclusive recovery post COVID-19, we must focus equally on all three pillars of sustainable development: environmental, social and economic sustainability.” 

Lindstorm explained that the Covid-19 pandemic has derailed government’s attention to climate change which, though being an ongoing crisis for much longer, people do not seem to be reacting to as efficiently as they did to the coronavirus pandemic. 

“What is encouraging it that most of the Supreme Audit Institutions are looking into how governments can reach these goals. In a globalised world, Covid-19 and climate are global problems that need global solutions.” 

She stressed the importance of fostering digital transformation and the necessary changes Supreme Audit Institutions must implement in order to achieve it. Among others, Lindstorm mentioned the need to look into data driven audits in order to make use of already available information and use it to develop new questions. 

“Digitalisation will be disruptive during its early stages, but it is totally necessary if we want to remain relevant and contribute to a more sustainable world. We should use the momentum in the right way and never let a good crisis go to waste.” 

Other speakers during the seminar included NAO Senior Manager William Peplow, IAID Manager Simone Sapiano and Deputy Auditor General Noel Camilleri.

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