The Swedish National Audit Office (Swedish NAO) has a partnership cooperation with the SAI of Zimbabwe, the Office of the Auditor General of Zimbabwe, and has partnered with the SAI since 2017. The current cooperation agreement was entered into in September 2022 and runs until September 2026.
The purpose of the cooperation is to assist the SAI of Zimbabwe in improving its operations in relation to international standards in selected areas. This is to be achieved for example through effective processes for performance audit, through the capability and knowledge needed to produce user-friendly audit reports of good quality, and through ensuring an effective and empathetic management culture and well-functioning communication. The evaluation indicates positive developments in all areas of cooperation and that the cooperation is well planned, guided and implemented, but that it is too early to assess whether the results achieved will be lasting.
The main focus of the cooperation between the Swedish NAO and the SAI of Zimbabwe covers:
- performance audit
- institutional development
- human resources management
- financial support for the development of the technical infrastructure.
The first project period lasted from 2017–2021. It has been extended for 10 months to allow for the preparation of a new project phase.
The SAI’s remit and independence is regulated in the constitution and in a law on public sector audit. The constitution states, among other things, what qualifications are required for an Auditor General and that the president appoints the post with the consent of parliament. An Auditor General can only be dismissed from their duties on the grounds of gross incompetence or mismanagement or inability to perform their duties for health reasons. The SAI conducts financial, compliance and performance audit. The audit mandate covers ministries, state enterprises and local administration.
The 2019 Open Budget Survey gives the SAI of Zimbabwe good marks (a or b), which means that the SAI conducts its audits, fulfils its audit mandate and reports its findings. However, the government does not report what action was taken in response to the audit conclusions and recommendations, and neither the SAI nor parliament make information available on whether the government has taken any action. On the other hand, transparency in the budget process has increased significantly and is now slightly above the global average, but still clearly below what is considered sufficient. The board that should exist for the SAI is still not operational and there are limitations in the financial and administrative independence of the SAI.
The SAI’s Degree of Independence
The World Bank’s SAI Independence Index is an index of SAIs’ independence. The index is designed using a ten-point scale where 0 is low and 10 is high. Zimbabwe’s 2021 index was in the range 8.0–8.5, placing the SAI in the category of “substantial independence”.
In early 2022, the cooperation for 2017–2021 was evaluated externally. The following assessment of results is mainly based on this evaluation.
The evaluation mentions positive developments in all areas of cooperation and that the cooperation is well planned, guided and implemented, but that it is too early to assess whether the results achieved will be lasting. It is also clear that the SAI of Zimbabwe needs continued support. The evaluation highlights trust in cooperation as an important success factor in achieving results in all components of cooperation. Contextual knowledge has been particularly important for effective cooperation. Representatives of the Swedish NAO had relevant knowledge, which enabled them to understand the SAI’s needs and propose the right types of improvements. Our flexible approach has also contributed to successful implementation, despite major challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the economic and political situation in the country and the SAI’s lack of resources limit the ability to fully comply with international standards.
At an early stage of the cooperation, our support focused on upgrading the technical equipment for performance auditors in the form of laptops, printers and cameras. During 2020–2022, the Swedish NAO has contributed a total of just over SEK 3.5 million as operational support to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). This has given the SAI of Zimbabwe opportunities to prioritise the use of grants according to its needs. The funds can be used in two different target areas: to carry out audits and to strengthen IT infrastructure. The results achieved are described in more detail below.
The evaluation shows some improvement in the leadership of the SAI’s managers as well as that the staff are more satisfied and perform better. According to the evaluation, the SAI’s governance has developed, for example through management having access to new methods and leadership tools. The Swedish NAO’s leadership training has been appreciated, as confirmed by interviewed employees at the SAI who describe, among other things, that the courses have improved managers’ leadership skills. This has led to better communication, more openness and increased understanding between managers and staff. SAI employees feel that the improved relationship has led to a better working environment and increased motivation. This was also verified in a questionnaire survey to performance auditors, which was carried out as part of the evaluation. The results of the survey showed that six out of ten respondents, who participated in activities focused on the SAI’s processes and relationships between personnel categories, believe that the relationship between auditors, team leaders and managers has improved as a result of the Swedish NAO’s activities.
As part of creating better conditions for informal communication between different managers and between managers and staff, the Swedish NAO contributed to financing equipment for break rooms. According to the interviewees at the SAI of Zimbabwe, informal meetings in the break rooms led to stronger interaction and better relationships between employees. During the COVID-19 pandemic, some of the staff were unable to be in the office due to restrictions and the room could not be used to the full.
The external evaluation shows that there have been some improvements in both internal and external communication. With the support of the Swedish NAO, the SAI of Zimbabwe has improved its intranet, which now works to a certain extent. Interviewees from the SAI confirm that all employees have access to the intranet and also gained a greater understanding of its importance. However, they consider that the content of the intranet needs to be further developed. Within the framework of the cooperation, we have also supported the SAI in developing a communication policy. Other planned activities, such as a workshop focused on internal communication, have not yet been possible due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our support has also led to some improvements in external communication. Interviewees from the SAI of Zimbabwe believe that support for workshops on media relations has led to increased understanding and awareness of external communication. Those affected by the audits have shown a greater interest in the SAI’s activities and are now calling for more performance audits, which is considered to have increased parliament’s understanding of the need for auditing.
According to the evaluation, cooperation has strengthened processes, skills, motivation and quality in performance audit while speeding up work processes. A survey conducted during the evaluation clearly shows that the Swedish NAO’s support has contributed to increasing knowledge in performance audit. A majority of respondents also stated that they put the knowledge into practice. As an example, employees at the SAI of Zimbabwe have increased their analytical and methodological abilities and improved their skills in writing reports. However, the SAI has not yet received the resources it considers necessary to set up a dedicated performance audit department.
The SAI of Zimbabwe’s activities have been severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Delays in the statutory financial audit have led the SAI to prioritise these activities, with the result that in practice no performance audit could be carried out in 2021. In addition, the number of performance auditors has decreased due to staff turnover, while no recruitment to replace them could take place due to budgetary constraints. How this will affect further development is uncertain.
According to the evaluation, it is too early to determine whether the SAI of Zimbabwe will have the intended long-term effects and whether the results of the cooperation are sustainable over time. However, continued support from the Swedish NAO is considered favourable for the SAI’s further development towards carrying out audits in accordance with international standards. The SAI has a good reputation both within the country and among international actors in the country. There is an interest and some openness to the audit reports presented, and they are also given attention in the media.
Costs of the Swedish NAO's cooperation that are charged to international development cooperation.
Source: Swedish National Audit Office Annual Reports for 2019, 2020 and 2021 and budget for 2022.
Brief Facts about Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe has moved from a relatively well-functioning society with a relatively stable economy and large natural resources, to a country with high and widespread poverty. Historical explanations exist but the causes are based on economic mismanagement and political abuse of power. Zimbabwe served as a one-party state under ex-President Robert Mugabe and his party ZANU-PF, from independence in 1980 to 2017, with the exception of a few years of co-government with the opposition. After a power struggle in autumn 2017, the military intervened and Mugabe resigned. His successor, Emmerson Mnangagwa, promised, among other things, to address the country’s acute problems, but the crisis has instead worsened.
Corruption is widespread with inefficient governance, weak decentralisation and a lack of respect for human rights. Freedom of expression is limited, abuses are carried out by security forces and the independence of the judiciary is heavily questioned. According to the Transparency International 2021 Corruption Index, Zimbabwe ranks 157 out of 180 countries.
The main industries in Zimbabwe are mining and agriculture. The country receives substantial humanitarian aid, although it has the potential to feed its own population and export surpluses. Food security and development are increasingly also affected by climate-related impacts. The economic crisis has made more than half of the population unemployed. The political crisis of the 21st century has also had a profound impact on both the public finances and the private sector. The country’s economic problems are based on a number of factors, including low level of investment, neglected infrastructure, widespread corruption, high debt and rising inflation. The COVID-19 pandemic has further worsened the economy, and the government was criticised by Amnesty International for using the pandemic to curtail the rights and freedoms of the population.
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