Interview for Právne noviny with the head of the SAO SR also about the detailed functioning of the Office and audits

Source: Právne noviny
Released on: 23/09/2020

In the course of August, Právne noviny had the opportunity to look into the functioning of an independent Slovak institution, the Supreme Audit Office of the Slovak Republic. During a pleasant conversation with its President Karol Mitrík, we found out more information about the processes, internal structure and changes made at the Office in recent years. We were also interested in the career of the Office President, who also revealed something private to us.

How does the path to the post of SAO President look like?

On one hand, it must be said, that this is a less pleasant process, as it is a form of political nomination, but if a person is prepared and determined, no obstacle can stand in his/her way. First, you need to find some political cover, and then you have to stand before the people (MPs) in Parliament - a Committee that listens to you, asks various questions. Here you can expect what may not be true is coming at you from some side. However, there is a certain policy in the Parliamentary process I personally did not have a problem with, as I have previously sat in Parliament and know how the method of questioning works. However, it is not possible to say what education a candidate needs for the position of SAO SR President. He/she must be a lawyer and a technician, a cyberneticist, as well as versed in informatics, a farmer and a health professional; it is a broad sphere, as our portfolio in public policy is actually the whole activity of the State. However, I think that a person who is running for the post of SAO SR President should be of a more mature age, that is, with some experience and a certain perspective.

Individual auditors enter their outputs into the system. Does it mean you have a direct overview of individuals and what they do?

Yes, I have information about both individuals and individual audits. During a year, we perform 30-35 audits in some 350-400 subjects, a relatively large scope. However, during my tenure, the Office's settings have changed, from ordinary routine audits of accounting, budgeting, legality compliance, we have moved to a higher level of audit, and these are also performance audits and analyses, not just the usual bureaucratic agenda, but public policies. It is not a simple job; this process is much more demanding, that is, both the planning and the audit itself. I must be sure that specific auditors are certainly more capable than officials who do the particular activity we audit. Moreover, this requires the need for a highly sophisticated internal quality control system for our operations.

Auditors must be proficient in various areas. You could introduce readers to who they are, what their education is. Are they from different areas, different spheres?

There can be no particular specialisation at the SAO. It just does not work. We are a national authority, the highest degree of control, which means that we have a duty to go into everything. I asked myself the question when I came here, what is the portfolio of our control activities, how many entities there are and it turns out that there is plus or minus 18,000 possible auditees. That means some 10 to 15 years period when we might be able to re-audit or re-assess the same auditee. That means that we cannot gamble with our capacities, and when we do an audit, we dig deep into the auditee, so to speak. Therefore, we first prepare a risk analysis for the audit, collectively analyse it, and when the Office management has assurance that the auditors are really sufficiently prepared, trained, then I electronically sign the audit authorisation and our people start in the field.

Is there any legislation you explicitly lack?

Yes, there is. It turns out that the leadership under the Civil Service Act does not have the strong enough leverage to force auditors into education to a certain extent. The Civil Service Act gives them quite a lot of autonomy in this area, as you cannot actually check their level of knowledge. So the auditor is an auditor and audits, he/she gets his/hers grade and personal allowance, he/she is still an auditor. Moreover, if the auditor works 25 years as an auditor, what is the motivation for further education, where would he/she could advance? My dream is that there will be three categories of auditors: there will be a junior, senior and master auditor. Therefore, if someone wants to be a junior controller, they will have to work at least 5 years to get used to the environment, to soak up the atmosphere, certain criteria will be set, which should show what skills and knowledge they should have. Subsequently, there will be a final exam, where if he/she is successful, will get the title of junior auditor, will get 500 or maybe 600 euros in addition to the regular wage, so that it is very motivating and this qualification will be valid for 5 years. After either five years, he /she will be able to apply for a higher level or will have to defend his/her present level. Therefore, I want to categorise it this way, so that the motivation is not only professional, but also financial.

Every office term ends, the SAO SR President term is seven years. What are your plans after it?

In particular, my current plans are to honour this mandate. I would like to add that the seven-year term has really its meaning, especially since I have also tried four years periods during lifetime. If the SAO SR presidential term were also four years, it would be difficult for me to model the changes made. Over the course of seven years, changes can be modelled in a sophisticated way, not by leaps and bounds. At the end of my term, I will enjoy health, I will stay active, I will not sit at home, but I no longer want any mandate. Since I'm a type who can't rest, if my head and body serve me, I'll definitely be active, I have a lot of hobbies. Since I am manually skilled - welding, planing, working with wood, I do not have a problem with iron, I will be happy to engage in these activities and work around my cottage. At the same time, I would like to pass on my initial hobby - horseback riding, to my grandchildren and the wider environment in the form of summer schools, and I would like to supervise them.

Read an interview The SAO SR President Karol Mitrík for Právne noviny in its entirety here in The Slovak language.