Family. Health. Water. Food. If COVID-19 has taught us one thing it is to re-evaluate and cherish what is important in our lives. At the end of 2019, many were caught up in the daily hustle and bustle of work—preparing for meetings, striving for promotions, trying to complete projects, planning for business travel. And then suddenly, everything came to a screeching halt. The threat or lack of access to essential goods and services caused many of us to pause and reconsider our value system. Appreciation for health, access to clean water, and availability of food began to occupy the space in our thoughts and minds that it rightly deserved—and along with it, an appreciation for the institutions and individuals who protect and provide these services.
In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, as well as across the globe, many of our essential goods and services are provided by state-owned enterprises (SOEs). As noted by the World Bank report, MENA Governance Reforms of State Owned Enterprises, although the legal definition of an SOE may vary from country to country, SOEs are characterized by a few commonalties. These include their control by the state, legal and financial autonomy from the state, and participation in the productive sector. In the MENA region, SOEs play a crucial role in providing integral services such as agriculture, telecommunications, power, transportation, and water—essential goods and services.
In turn, auditors are crucial to SOE’s operation and ability to provide these essential goods and services. SOE audits are undertaken by both supreme audit institutions (SAIs) as well as private sector audit firms to minimize the incidence of waste, fraud, and abuse in providing goods and services to citizens. Auditors’ contribute to SOEs’ transparency and accountability. This facilitates the responsible use of public funds in ensuring that when we need clean water, electricity, healthcare, food, and energy—it is readily available.
Amid the COVID-19 crisis, IFAC and the World Bank Group Governance Global Practice MENA region have come together for the ADVANCE series of webinars: Accounting and Auditing During Volatility, Ambiguity, National Crisis and Emergency.
Recognizing the importance of high-quality auditing in ensuring successful provision of essential goods and services, the first ADVANCE series webinar—broadcast simultaneously in English and Arabic—focused on “Key Challenges Facing SOEs During & Post COVID-19: Accountants and Auditors’ Perspective.”
Conducted in collaboration with the Arab Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions as well as the Arab Federation of Accountants and Auditors, the session provided an opportunity for SAIs and audit firms from around the region and world to share their experience, lessons learned and best practices with regards to the accounting and audit of SOEs during COVID-19. Over 300 participants joined us, 87% of whom believe it is important for SOEs to have strong accounting and audit to ensure provision of essential services during COVID -19.
This webinar also, importantly, emphasized providing practical advice and guidance to participants in overcoming key challenges. At the close of the event, 79% of responding participants said the webinar provided valuable information useful to their practice of audit. Issues raised by participants included: the application and utilization of technology, scope limitations and challenges to accessing documentation, and how to manage the increased risk of fraud or misuse of resources.
As a profession, auditors have both a role and responsibility in helping provide the transparency and accountability that enables governments, economies, and citizens to thrive both during and after-COVID 19. In a crisis as large and all-encompassing as COVID-19, we must all work together (public and private sector) to share knowledge and resources and to provide the best possible advice and guidance to our governments and economies. Following the close of the webinar, 94% of participants agreed it is important for the public and private sector (professional accountancy organizations and SAIs) to work together to overcome challenges related to COVID-19.
In response to the positive feedback and visible impact of this first ADVANCE series webinar, IFAC and the World Bank Group Governance Global Practice MENA region will continue to listen to our stakeholders in the region and work with them to design and deliver high-quality, value-oriented knowledge and learning events that meet the needs of our clients and partner countries. Our next ADVANCE webinar series event is scheduled for mid-July 2020. Invitations and additional details are forthcoming.
For additional resources, guidance, and advice from the IFAC community on adjusting and managing during this rapidly evolving situation, visit the IFAC, IAASB, IESBA, and IPSASB COVID-19 web pages, which are continually updated. For PAOs that may need support in offering Continuing Professional Development (CPD) online, please see IFAC’s Online CPD Services for Professional Accountancy Organizations webpage, which lists several IFAC member organizations that are ready to assist PAOs with online CPD for members.
For additional resources, guidance and support from the World Bank Group Governance Global Practice please visit the World Bank’s Governance & Institutions COVID-19 Response Resources web page. The page includes a database of country actions, two umbrella papers, and a series of subsidiary papers on various aspects of the response (e.g., treasury management, anti-corruption measures). Further research and resources will be posted as they become available.