Netherlands Conducts Audit for National SDG Preparedness

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  • The Netherlands Court of Audit carried out a review of Netherlands' preparedness to achieve the SDGs.
  • The review concludes that the government has made a “swift and well-organised start,” but there are “a number of areas that require attention to ensure a lasting long-term impact".
  • Over 100 Supreme Audit Institutions, including Canada's, have shown concrete interest in carrying out SDG-related audits.

Countries’ national supreme audit institutions (SAIs) have begun carrying out assessments of preparedness to achieve the SDGs. The Netherlands recently issued its review, while Canada has announced plans to conduct one. In total, more than 100 SAIs have shown interest in carrying out SDG-related audits, according to the International Organisation of Supreme Audit Institutions (INTOSAI).

SAIs are independent governmental entities with an external audit role established by a constitution or supreme law-making body. They primarily oversee public expenditure but, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), they are increasingly taking a broader, more comprehensive view to address reliability, effectiveness, efficiency and economy of policies and programmes. INTOSAI is an umbrella organization for the external government audit community, promoting development and transfer of knowledge, improving government auditing worldwide and enhancing professional capacities. It is an NGO with special consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

In December 2016, SAIs gathered for the biennial International Congress of Supreme Audit Institutions (XXII INCOSAI), in Abu Dhabi, UAE. The agenda for this meeting included the theme, “How INTOSAI can contribute to the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including good governance and strengthening the fight against corruption”. The INTOSAI website includes a section for ‘Audit reports produced by individual SAIs on the SDGs;’ the Netherlands’ review of preparedness to achieve the SDGs is the first report on this list.

The Netherlands’ review concludes that the government has made a “swift and well-organised start,” but there are “a number of areas that require attention to ensure a lasting long-term impact.” The review was carried out by the Netherlands Court of Audit (NCA), and its conclusions were conveyed to the House of Representatives of the Dutch Parliament in a letter of 13 September 2017. Per the letter, the NCA conducted the review from March to June 2017, based on a seven-step framework it developed with the European Court of Auditors. The framework’s steps include a firm commitment on the part of the government to achieving the SDGs, the involvement of society as a whole and of all relevant stakeholders, and the development of a suitable system for monitoring progress. The letter recalls that the Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation wrote to the House of Representatives in September 2016, presenting a plan of action for SDG implementation, and indicated that the Netherlands would strive to achieve all Goals by 2030. It also states that Statistics Netherlands issued its first SDG monitoring report on 4 November 2016.

The review points to a number of areas the Dutch Government needs to pay special attention to, in order to “ensure the successful and coherent achievement of the SDGs in the longer term.” These areas include: raising awareness of the SDGs in the education curriculum; analyzing the impact of government policy on the ability of subnational authorities and others to reach the SDGs, and vice versa; and examining how the SDGs can be included in the regular budget and accountability cycles of the government.

The review stresses the need to ensure clear coordination and assessment of policy proposals in order to avoid conflicts or overlap, and suggests that the “light-touch approach to coordination” by the Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation may not be sufficient. It highlights the importance of considering the impact of any policy proposal (whether positive or negative) on one or more of the SDGs, and discusses the relevance of using an SDG assessment tool in this regard.
 
The review was based on interviews with: the national coordinator for the SDGs; the SDG ‘focal points’ at various ministries; Statistics Netherlands; the international division of the Association of Netherlands Municipalities (VNG); Partos, a partnership of development organizations; and members of the Netherlands’ SDG Charter, which involves companies, public authorities and NGOs. It also used public sources.
 
The Abu Dhabi Declaration resulting from XXII INCOSAI outlines the importance of undertaking audit and review work on the SDGs through four different approaches, which are defined in INTOSAI’s Strategic Plan 2017-2022: assessing the preparedness of national governments to implement, monitor, and report on SDG progress; undertaking performance audits that examine the economy, efficiency, and effectiveness of key government programs that contribute to specific SDG aspects; assessing and supporting, as appropriate, the implementation of SDG 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions); and being models of transparency and accountability in SAIs’ own operations, including auditing and reporting.