Vol. 5 Num 382 Fri. June 24, 2005  

Environmental auditing
Supporting sustainable development

There have been notable strides in the field of environmental auditing within the International Organisation of the Supreme Audit Institutions (INTOSAI) since the establishment of the Working Group on Environmental Auditing (WGEA) in 1992. The WGEA started with 12 countries and has since grown to a membership of more than 50 countries, making it the largest INTOSAI working group. The core values of WGEA include: Independence, Integrity, Professionalism, Credibility, Inclusiveness, Co-operation and, Innovation.

The strategic Plan of the WGEA is based on the following fundamental precepts : 1. Vision is to promote good governance of national resources by enabling supreme audit institutions to help the respective governments improve environmental development through sustainable actions to protect the health and safety of the citizens. The vision statement reflects the ultimate impact desired by WGEA as a consequence of its work; 2. Mission aims to encourage the use of audit mandates and audit methods in the field of environmental protection and sustainable development by both members of the Working Group as well as non-member supreme audit institutions. Concurrent, joint and co-ordinated auditing by SAIs of cross border environmental issues and policies form the priorities; 3.Strategic Goals are the intended outcomes which accrue as a result of sum total of the activities undertaken by the Working Group. However, while the Working Group may have direct influence over the attainment of these goals, it only has indirect control since other factors beyond the activities of the WGEA may affect the achievement of these goals.

Environmental auditing tools framed by the WGEA consist of standards, guidelines and research papers. Previously, the WGEA produced the following four important research reports : Auditing water by the Netherlands, Auditing waste management by Norway, Environmental audit and regulatory auditing by New Zealand, Auditing sustainable development by the United Kingdom.

For the coming work period, the WGEA has proposed that 'Biodiversity' be adopted as an added central theme. According to the results of the 4th survey on environmental auditing, biodiversity is frequently identified both as an issue of national importance and a popular topic for auditing. Furthermore, biodiversity is one of the important subject areas addressed in the INTOSAI Development Initiative (IDI)/ WGEA training programmes. It has also been proposed that the working group prepares and publishes by the end of 2007, a paper summarizing the environmental and sustainable development audits and investigations to be undertaken by SAIs (Supreme Audit Institutions).

Within INTOSAI there are seven regional organisations of supreme audit institutions : Africa (AFROSAI), the Arab countries (ARABOSAI), Asia (ASOSAI), Caribbean (CAROSAI), Europe (EUROSAI), Latin American and Caribbean (OLACEFS) and the South Pacific (SPASAI). A Regional Working Group on Environmental Auditing (RWGEA) has been established in six of the seven INTOSAI regions, with only the CAROSAI region lacking an environmental working group. Since these regions independently establish their own goals and strategies, the WGEA aims assist the establishment of coherence between them.

Liaison with international organisations such as the World Bank and the United Nations Programme on Environment (UNEP) and discussing the work of the WGEA and its members are also important components of the WGEA goals.

The 9th meeting of WGEA was held in Brasilia, Brazil from May 30 to June 4, 2004. Attended by about 100 delegates from 44 member countries of INTOSAI, Bangladesh was represented by the author. SAI, Bangladesh presented a paper titled "SAI Bangladesh faces new challenges: Outcome of wastes audit on Dhaka City Corporation". SAI, Bangladesh has been consistently striving to get into environment auditing, particularly after the very successful IDI-WGEA international workshop on environmental auditing held at Antalya, Turkey a few years back. Participation in the workshop had resulted in clear awareness building and skill formation of SAI, Bangladesh.

Waste is now considered as a prime issue for environmental auditing. The phenomenal growth of Dhaka City Corporation (DCC) prompted SAI, Bangladesh to carry out audit on waste management of DCC. A population of 12 million in an area of 36 sq. k.m generates around 3000-4000 tons of wastes everyday. It was, therefore, imperative to target the following objectives for this audit: a. To assess effectiveness of DCC in managing wastes of the city; b. To evaluate adequacy of budget, manpower and necessary equipment/ logistics; c. To examine the strength of the regulatory instruments including empowerment; d. To evaluate the effectiveness of the national wastes policy.

The office of the CAG, Bangladesh, in its Strategic Audit Plan (2003-2006) incorporated a phase wise work plan on Environmental Auditing on the following issues: (i) Air pollution (ii) River pollution, (iii) Wastes management, (iv) Deforestation, (v) Management of fishery resources, (vi) Pesticides use in agriculture, (vii) Urban sanitation system, (viii) Floods and disaster management, (ix) Internal environmental management by public authorities and departments, (x) Eco-systems management, (xi) Traffic mobility and transport.

SAI, Bangladesh in its maiden audit of wastes management on DCC has initiated environmental auditing. But the following constraints have to be overcome at the quickest possible time to make environmental auditing effective : (i) Skill, (ii) Resources, (iii) Adquate auditing out-fit, (iv) Hiring experts, (v) Global co-operation and collaboration among the SAIs.

SAI, Bangladesh has aptly responded to face the above mentioned impediments through: Formulation of CAG's Strategic Plan (2003-2006) divided into short, mid, long and tenure plans; and effecting reforms through DFID-Royal Netherlands Government-GoB funded Financial Management Reforms Programme (FMRP) (2003-2008).

The lessons learnt and experiences shared in the 9th Meeting of the INTOSAI Working Group on Environmental Auditing will go a long way in enhancing the capability of CAG, Bangladesh in carrying out effective environmental audit to measure the sustainable development of the country.

Asif Ali is Comptroller and Auditor General of Bangladesh