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Auditing for Crisis Resilience

The social and economic fallout from a crisis can be devastating, with far-reaching impact that may take years before full recovery

When a crisis strikes, rapid response by government is critical to cushion the impact on the public and the economy. What’s the best way to tackle a crisis? By being prepared for one. That means being ready to react to major disruptive events when they happen, even those that are difficult to predict, such as natural disasters or epidemics. Full recovery from a crisis requires governments to have foresight, anticipate the long-term impact and prepare accordingly.

Preparation is the cure

For governments, “crisis resilience” often involves ex ante assessment of risks and scenario planning to determine the best options for response, which can vary depending on the type of event. Auditors have a key role to play in supporting crisis resilience in the public sector. They can assess the government’s preparedness for an emergency by reviewing the adequacy of disaster risk assessments or business continuity arrangements. Auditors can also provide recommendations to ensure that there is a suitable plan in place to manage the response, in the short-term and beyond where necessary.

Auditors themselves need to be prepared to deliver against their mandate in times of crisis. For example, if an event is so disruptive and fast-moving that planned audits have to be postponed or cancelled, is there a “Plan B” to adapt working practices if required while continuing to provide the expected  level of assurance?

Accountability doesn’t stop during a crisis

Given their birds’ eye view of government operations, auditors can provide valuable insights on lessons learnt from past events to help decision-makers respond to the current crisis. Auditors can also hold governments accountable for the response measures actually taken where there is often a heightened risk of fraud, abuse or waste. For example, internal auditors can perform “real-time” reviews of controls to ensure that cash outflows from emergency relief packages reach the intended beneficiaries. Or supreme audit institutions can flag potential risk areas due to modifications to public financial management systems, such as emergency public procurement measures.  In the longer term, when the initial crisis is over and recovery is underway, auditors’ evaluation ex post of the effectiveness and efficiency of  response measures can be used to improve preparedness for future events.