On the last day of our one-week study trip, we got the opportunity to visit the Estonian National Audit Office, in short, the NAO. In Estonian, it translates to “riigikontroll” the name itself holds the word “control” which implies that the NAO acts as an inspection institution of the government and other public institutions in Estonia. It is an independent branch of the government which is primarily responsible for monitoring the government’s spending in the public sector without any irregularities. In fact, this office also checks if the taxpayers´ money is being used according to the 3E´s (economic, efficient, effective).
Most countries in the world have such a democratic player embedded in their state. However, in Estonia it’s special to see that this institution audits the federal as well as the local government.
After getting a good rest in our Airbnb, we met our colleges in the heart of the city. Although the weather wasn’t sunny, we were still excited to see the Office and meet the officers working there. Before getting into the Office, we briefed our colleagues about the institution and its unique role in the Estonian public sector. We were heartily welcomed by Krislin Kivi, Head of International Relations and Janus an experienced auditor. From there they took us straight to the presentation.
Krislin started off explaining to us the legal basis of the NAO, which is protected by the Estonian constitution and the National Audit Office Act itself. The operating chief officer is called the “Auditor General”, who is proposed by the president of the republic and elected by the Estonian parliament for five years. Since 2018, Janar Holm has been running the Office, now in his second office term. We observed that the Auditor General has a rather short term of office compared to other countries like Germany, where the corresponding mandate is given for a period of twelve years.
Krislin explained that the number of NAO staff members encompasses 80 employees, out of which 65 are engaged in auditing activities. NAO is a Westminster type of institution that operates with an annual budget of roughly 5 million Euros. The term “Westminster” refers to the nature of the institution, they report their findings to Parliament and give recommendations to the legislature which are by nature not legally binding, as our mentor Pascal Horni explains during our joint debriefing.
Before Krislin handed over the word to Janus, she elaborated on the strategic goals 2020-2024 of NAO, which lay in the prevention of serious problems in society and in strengthening international relations with INTOSAI and EUROSAI by exchanging best-practices in audit.
The second part of the presentation provided us an in-depth insight into Performance Auditing and Stakeholder Communication, which was conducted by Janus.
Janus pointed out that Performance Auditing was introduced to Estonia in 1999 and since then, it has been gaining popularity. He elaborated on the 3E´s when it comes to Performance Audits because the purpose is to try to provide information on the effectiveness of taxpayer`s money spent by the government for various purposes. Effectiveness refers hereby to a wider significant outcome, which can be measured with quantitative or qualitative data. The current and future challenge is to generate authentic big data, which can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of a policy (tax spending).
After leaving the office we reflected on the functioning of the NAO and its significance in a democratic system and how it keeps checks and balances so that a healthy development is possible. We also shared our insight from the entire week and thanked our mentors for the carefully planned week.
This visit also marked the end of an exciting week in Tallinn and Estonia. Estonia is one of the few nations which able to grow at economically and socially at this rate in the last decade. This growth was certainly not a gift to them, they were brave and made the right choices to achieve their goals.