The purpose and benefits of citizen engagement in public oversight

Active engagement of civil society in public matters is valuable in democratic societies. Moreover, it is particularly revelant to accomplishing goals in the following areas:

I. Public financial management1: Enhancing citizen oversight to improve public accountability in government spending

Substantive evidence describes how citizen engagement in public financial management (PFM) leads to more efficient, equitable, and inclusive budget processes and fiscal policies that support low-income citizens. SAIs, as examples of independent oversight agencies, are a critical part of the national accountability architecture. Given their mandates to “watch over” government accounts, operations, and performance, SAIs are natural partners of citizens in exercising public scrutiny. More specifically, public participation in the audit process can help improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the use of public resources by enhancing public scrutiny, thereby reducing vulnerabilities to corruption or wastage of resources.

Ensuring transparency, efficiency, and adequate service delivery

Government agencies implement citizen engagement practices to monitor service delivery with the intent of enhancing transparency in government processes and systems, fostering better governance, and soliciting feedback from beneficiaries to improve service delivery. Those practices are essential for strengthening the multiple social accountability relationships, as proposed in the World Development Report (WDR) 2004 between government, service providers, and citizens. Public participation can help to close the gap between between actual and desired service delivery because it enables information and feedback between users and the government or service provider.

Corruption has a disruptive impact on societies. Citizens may experience corruption in their daily lives; therefore, they can become central agents to tackle corruption by (a) detecting and reporting mismanagement and (b) ensuring probity.. Further Information

Enhanced ownership of audit reports by citizens

Public management has a direct effect on citizens’ daily lives, and it can be improved through oversight duties that SAIs perform when monitoring performance of state agencies. More often than not, SAIs’ audit report findings do not elicit a response from the agency executive. However, as accountability loops broaden, citizens can play a more active role, gaining ownership of audit reports and demanding a concrete response from executives to act upon audit recommendations.

Core Functions of SAIs

SAIs are responsible for auditing public finances and making sure that public funds are spent wisely and with transparency. SAI mandates vary depending on country contexts, internal structure, and reporting relationships. Despite those differences, all SAIs share the same mission—that is, to ensure compliance with established policies, rules, and high-quality standards and effective management of public resources.

In the past couple of years, SAIs have begun recognizing the value of citizen engagement as a mechanism to help them fulfill their mandate, as demonstrated by the growing number of initiatives implemented in that area. SAIs are increasingly looking for innovative ways to engage citizens and leverage the capacity of civil society so as to enhance the overall results, relevance, and legitimacy of audit processes. However, those changes have not occurred without challenges. Engaging citizens throughout the audit process is fraught with potential complications because of the formal mandate of SAIs and the general lack of both SAIs and CSOs to collaborate in a meaningful, results-oriented way. The following section elaborates those challenges in more detail.

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