“It’s citizens who must feel the result” — Accounts Chamber changing audit in regions

An auditor of the Russian Accounts Chamber offered to control the implementation of national projects having given pride of place not to money but the quality of decisions

The Accounts Chamber is changing the paradigm of control over the implementation of national projects in regions. Together with a financial audit of budget costs, inspectors will evaluate the achievement of targets. Auditor of the Russian Accounts Chamber Dmitry Zaytsev claimed it at a strategic session on introduction of national project monitoring in Kazan on 19 November and gave to understand that regions might be held accountable in a stricter manner than usual examination of 100% use of public money. As Realnoe Vremya found out, the Tatarstan Prosecutor General’s Office began to stick to this approach, while head of the Tatarstan Civic Chamber Anatoly Fomin urged auditors of the Accounts Chamber to influence the change of the trend for commercialisation of the social sphere where services become charged.

Not percentage of spent money will be asked about

The Accounts Chamber is introducing a new system to monitor national projects following a changed paradigm of control over not only the budget but also managerial decisions in regions. It was discussed what final qualitative indicators must be laid in the foundation of the evaluation of the effectiveness of budget spending in national projects at the strategic session of control and accounts agencies of Russian regions in Kazan on 19 November. Auditor of the Russian Accounts Chamber Dmitry Zaytsev who is considered one of the authors of the new strategy of the parliamentarian control organ reported on the changes in approaches to the evaluation of the effectiveness of federal resources.

Auditors from primarily Volga regions arrived at the strategic session — Bashkortostan, Nizhny Novgorod, Ulyanovsk and Saratov Oblasts, which are considered one of the key addresses of federal transfers — over 90% of planned budgets. However, introducing the forum’s guests, its moderator, head of the Tatarstan Accounts Chamber Aleksey Demidov especially welcomed participants from remote regions — a delegation of auditors from Chechnya, Dagestan, Kamchatka Krai.

Moderator of the session Aleksey Demidov said that there were envisages 25,7bn rubles in 2019 to finance national projects. 18,1bn rubles of them come from the federal budget, 7,6bn — from the republican one. The costs totalled 18,3bn rubles, or 71,3% of the plan, as of 7 November.

However, key speaker of the session Dmitry Zaytsev explained his vision of the evaluation of the effectiveness of the use of public money in national projects. Its gist is that regions must not only use the federal resources to build new facilities but achieve a qualitative improvement in people’s lives. But how can one evaluate it objectively in practice if the set of targets in national projects isn’t always obvious? For instance, how to check that the share of citizens leading a healthy lifestyle has increased, according to Demography national project? To check the number of people going to the polyclinic? Or how to check the effect of the construction of kindergartens with nurseries if they are built more in Kazan, not Aktanysh? How to measure the usefulness of national projects for citizens?

Managerial audit to be added to financial audit

Dmitry Zaytsev explained that these tasks were included in the strategic audit of national projects. According to him, a financial audit is still the domain of the Accounts Chamber, while the strategic audit remains hard to understand for other authority agencies. It means the verification of the quality of managerial decisions. Moreover, the Accounts Chamber poses itself not as an examiner of public spending but a direct aide to the government when achieving national goals.

“Ordinary citizens should feel the result. And we tried to reflect the new approach to the relationships with the government in the strategy,” Dmitry Zaytsev outlined the initial position of the Accounts Chamber.

According to him, there have been a lot of changes in the system controlling money spending since the beginning of national projects. The system of e-budget changes, classifications change. Moreover, the right to make strategic decisions is given to local governments. According to him, when analysing decisions, auditors “must be specific, utilitarian and direct in their evaluations”. He said that a new strategy of activity of the Accounts Chamber as a parliamentarian control organ had been adopted 1,5 years ago.

“Generally speaking, the Accounts Chamber is a closed organ, its work is characterised as ‘for professional use’. But the results are precious if we communicate ideas to the government, it is ordinary citizens who should feel the result. And we tried to reflect the new approach to the relationships with the government in the strategy,” the auditor of the Accounts Chamber stressed.

“We must be in the same boat”

“When does our job become valuable?” Zaytsev asked. “When we can easily show our independence, when the government needs our summaries and our evaluations. If it is a missed boat and nobody needs the result, consequently, we don’t complete our job as a strategic partner and carry out our strategic audit. This is why the new approach is hard to understand.”

The speaker of the session stressed that the Accounts Chamber and the Russian government were strategic partners when implementing national projects. According to him, such an approach was unexpected for the international community of accounts chambers.

“We declared this approach at an international congress of accounts chambers in Moscow. But such an approach doesn’t find a direct path to the mind of all accounts chambers in other countries because the paradigm of a financial audit is firmly cemented in our financial relationships, and it is a rule. Yes, we all must be unbiased. But our independence doesn’t have to influence the value of our work,” he said.

Deputy Chairwoman of the Tatarstan State Council Tatiana Larionova agreed that national projects must cover all the population. “We are judged not by the number of buildings in Kazan or Chelny. People fairly consider that Demography national project must be implemented on their territory as well,” she noted when saying that federal initiatives don’t get to all remote places.

Larionova criticised separate imagined targets in Education national project. “It is necessary to change the calculation method — the share of citizens involved in volunteering,” she noted. “The indicator is doubtful because it is counted from the age zero. At least it is unserious to consider that a newborn baby will immediately become a volunteer.” It is expected that these problems will be discussed at the all-Russian forum of national projects, which will be in Kazan next spring, she said.

Tatarstan Prosecutor’s Office: won’t it cause a reducing in financing of national projects?

Supervision of the implementation of national projects is a priority task of the prosecutor general’s office. Deputy Prosecutor of Tatarstan Marat Dolgov said that a control team was created in the office, there was provided a constant flow of information about the course of implementation. In other words, a network of interaction with the Ministry of Internal Affairs, FSB, Accounts Chamber. But if the Accounts Chamber comes in a year, law enforcement agencies control online, Dolgov noted. According to him, the first inspections showed that there are problems with budget money use, some ministries had a low percentage.

“I will put it simply. If we detect a lot of violations, won’t there an impression that everything is bad in Tatarstan? Won’t it cause a reduction in financing of national projects?” Marat Dolgov asked.

However, the prosecutor’s office decided that “not a hammer but a scalpel should be used”. “If we switch on the law enforcement mechanism, any national project can be stopped. A reasonable balance must be found,” the vice Tatarstan prosecutor thinks. Head of the Tatarstan Civic Chamber Anatoly Fomin supported the idea of strategic audit but urged auditors of the Accounts Chamber to influence the change in the trend for commercialisation of the social sphere where services become charged. According to him, on the one hand, authorities declare that health care is free, while, on the other hand, there is a trend for commercialisation of social services, while prices grow.

By Luiza Ignatyeva

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