The process of development, with its various concepts, is of great importance at the global level, and in recent years this concept has evolved to include the concept of sustainability and thus, the Sustainable Development has become the strategic goal that the world’s nations seek to achieve. Hence, we must all understand the meaning of Sustainable Development to realize its importance and the necessity of achieving its goals.
The Sustainable Development's concept depends on a basic pillar represented in participating in the distribution of the burdens of development and reaping its fruits, so the idea that a generation or generations bear the burdens of development without benefiting from its fruits, or that a generation or generations reap all the fruits of development without bearing any of its burdens is an idea that is completely inconsistent. The Sustainable Development means “meeting the needs of the current generation without encroaching on the needs of future generations” on the one hand while on the other hand, the Sustainable Development strives to achieve economic development without neglecting the social and environmental aspects. Therefore, the Sustainable Development targets three basic dimensions: the economic, social, and environmental dimensions.
Within the efforts exerted by countries to achieve economic development, some bad practices appeared that did not take the environment into consideration due to not realizing that the environment has a certain capacity which is not absolute or limitless. As to consuming resources, natural resources have limits, and it is not right that one or several generations fully consume them, but they must be dealt with wisely in order to preserve the rights of future generations. On the production level, the exaggeration in loading the environment with wastes or residues resulting from the processes of manufacturing products or providing services based on the concept of the limitless environmental capacity led to the occurrence of many environmental problems represented in issues of pollution, global warming, desertification and biological imbalance.
Since the environment has been a permanent concern of governments over the past 20 years, there are many efforts to integrate the environmental considerations more effectively into the economic decision-making process. Examples include increasing investments in environment-friendly technologies, integrating government efforts in developed countries to reduce the use of fuels that cause carbon emissions, increasing the recognition of the value of ecosystem services for the business sector and society, banning the use of substances that cause ozone layer erosion as well as the efforts made to assess the progress in achieving the Sustainable development Goals (SDGs) with an environmental dimension.
The Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs) worldwide play a fundamental role in contributing to the achievement of SDGs through their auditing processes on the implementation of those goals, so the past years have witnessed a clear interest in the role that they can contribute with in order to support the efforts of countries represented by their governments to achieve the SDGs. This interest is reflected in the keenness of the International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions (INTOSAI) to support the SAIs to carry out their tasks to audit and follow-up the implementation of the SDGs. The priorities of the INTOSAI Strategic Plan (2017-2022) included contributing to the follow-up and audit of the SDGs within the context of the Sustainable Development's efforts of each country and in accordance with the terms of reference granted to the SAI. They also included the fields through which the SAIs could make valuable contributions to the SDGs' implementation.
The traditional audit, whether financial, performance or compliance, differs from auditing the SDGs' implementation due to some features that distinguish this type of auditing from other types. There are many concepts associated with this type of audit, such as the concept of integrated government that stems from the participation of more than one entity in achieving one or more of the SDGs, so it is necessary to audit the achievement of the goal as a whole rather than considering the achievement of one party’s responsibilities regarding this goal. There is also another aspect which distinguishes this kind of audit that is accurately determining priorities and starting with the most important ones which naturally differ from one country to another due to the difference between countries in the issues they suffer from or the challenges they face, whether on the executive bodies' level or on the level of the auditing bodies' capabilities and competences. In addition, auditing the SDGs' achievement is carried out in a more general and comprehensive manner and requires the concerted efforts of governments, civil society organizations and all relevant parties, in addition to the need to demonstrate the impact of achieving the Sustainable Development as well as making sure that no one is left behind which is one of the basic principles that underpins the SDGs.
Taking these differences into consideration, and in its strive to achieve the SDGs' implementation audit in accordance with unified standards to ensure the achievement of the highest levels of quality when carrying out the audit tasks, the INTOSAI Development Initiative (IDI) has issued a model named the IDI's SDGs Audit Model (ISAM) on auditing the SDGs which is considered a template aimed at providing support for SAIs to carry out high-quality audits of the SDGs' implementation.
In the course of auditing the SDGs' implementation, it is required that the SAI integrates the compliance requirements imposed by the International Standards of the Supreme Audit Institutions (ISSAIs) related to performance auditing as well as the effective considerations of the impact of auditing within the audit methodology of the SDGs' implementation.
This process also requires the adherence to the requirements of ISSAI no. (300) and ISSAI no. (3000) where ISSAI no. (300) determines the general principles as well as the audit process related to those principles which must be adhered to during auditing of the SDGs' implementation. When the matter is related to environmental auditing, there should be abidance by INTOSAI GUIDs, especially GUID 5200 entitled “Activities with an Environmental Perspective" as well as GUID 5201 entitled “Environmental Auditing in the Context of Financial and Compliance Audits”.
These GUIDs, as stated in them, aim to provide a base for SAIs to enable them to understand the nature of environmental auditing as it has recently developed on the governmental level. This base will be a starting point in which each SAI can develop its own approach to implementing the environmental related regulatory responsibilities in a satisfactory manner within the framework of its terms of reference and tasks.
In addition, each SAI should sets its policy regarding the assumptions and standards that must be followed when implementing environmental auditing to ensure the high quality of work and products.
The point no.10 under section "Background" of GUID 5200 stipulates “Environmental audit is usually defined as a performance, compliance or financial audit addressing the approach taken by responsible bodies".
This evidence made it clear that the environmental audit process procedures include:
- Planning the environmental audit process.
- Implementation of the environmental audit process.
All this is consistent with the various procedures of the audit tasks whether it is a financial, performance or compliance audit. However, due to differences between the various audit processes of the audited entities and auditing the SDGs' implementation, ISAM added the stage of selecting the subject(s) of SDG 's auditing, and also showed the need to involve the relevant parties in each stage of the audit and explained that during the application of the ISSAI's compliance methodology, it is appropriate to use a methodology that combines a results-based approach and a systems-based approach in these types of audits. In addition, the SAI must determine the impact of the required audit on the SDGs' implementation as well as taking the necessary measures to facilitate this impact throughout the audit period. ISAM also focused on the principle of leaving no one behind as it is one of the most important principles upon which the SDGs were based.
The checklists added by ISAM to each stage of the audit process represent a basic component of its elements aiming to confirm the compliance with all standards and determinants related to auditing the implementation of that stage of auditing the SDGs.
The audit process for implementing the SDGs in accordance with ISAM includes the following stages:
- Selection of the audit topic(s) on the SDGs' implementation.
- Designing the audit process for the SDGs' implementation.
- Auditing the SDGs' implementation.
- Reporting on the SDGs' implementation.
- Following-up the impact of auditing the SDGs.
Through these elements, it becomes clear how the SAIs can adhere to the ISSAIs and achieve an audit effect based on performance audits that generalize the most important SDGs' considerations (1).
In conclusion, SAIs that audit the SDGs face the challenge of conducting audits that differ from the traditional financial and compliance auditing, and that there is a great difference in their terms of reference, capabilities and resources. On the other hand, the stakeholders have great expectations regarding the SAIs' role in contributing to achieving the SDGs through their audit tasks.
Therefore, these SAIs must determine precisely their priorities in this field as well as follow a comprehensive approach when implementing this type of audit guided by the ISSAIs and the relevant evidence in order to ensure the achievement of high quality and increase the added value and the positive impact to the audit work. This is undoubtedly reflected in the effective contribution to implementing the SDGs.
(1) For more details , visit the website https://www.idi.no/work-streams/relevant-sais/auditing-sdgs/audit-sdgs-implementation/isam