Auditor General fends off critics

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Norway’s state Auditor General, Jørgen Kosmo, has been fending off criticism this week from a string of top state leaders. A professional evaluation of the Office of the Auditor General (Riksrevisjonen) has earlier been carried out by representatives for the European Court of Auditors (ECA), along with Auditor Generals from Finland and Austria, and they gave Kosmo and his staff pretty good marks.

State Auditor General Jørgen Kosmo has now been audited himself. PHOTO: Riksrevisjonen

They basically audited the Norwegian auditors who are charged with ensuring that government ministries and state bureaucrats in Norway follow measures approved by the Parliament.

The foreign auditors evaluated the State Auditor General’s auditing and reporting process, its administrative functions and feedback from those reviewed by the auditor general’s staff.

They claimed in their report last year that they were met with “a high degree of openness and willingness to cooperate” among their Norwegian counterparts. They concluded that the state auditor general’s practices were “well-formed” and complied with “international professional standards.” They recommended “further improvements” in documentation, accounting systems and development of a personnel strategy, including better training programs for both employees and management. While there were good programs for integrating new employees into the organization, there weren’t any for managers. The auditors from elsewhere in Europe also recommended creation of a system for identifying and training potential leaders in the organization, to improve motivation and retain talent.

They also recommended better use of feedback from those being audited, “to improve the work.” There was no lack of feedback this week, meanwhile, from a string of former top state leaders who unleashed criticism this week to newspaper Aftenposten about how the Auditor General’s office operates and of Kosmo himself. They included former defense chief Sverre Diesen, the former head of immigration agency Ida Børresen and former cabinet minister Erik Solheim.

Børresen, for example, stressed that the Auditor General’s office “does a lot of good work” but she felt the reports they received contained no clear criteria for how UDI could improve. Diesen claimed the auditors didn’t always seem to understand practical realities, such as when various naval vessels were being replaced with new ones. Phasing out the old ones drew criticism from auditors worried about gaps in defense, “making it seem like it was a problem that the Navy was being modernized.” Solheim claimed Kosmo’s auditors were “preoccupied with small errors” and could scare off politicians from taking on needed reforms.

Kosmo said he didn’t agree with much of the criticism but that he would “evaluate routines” at his office. “We treat all criticism seriously,” he told Aftenposten on Tuesday. He also said perhaps his staff was a bit too “folkesey” for some government officials, who want more formal language and criteria.

The head of the Parliament’s control and disciplinary committee, meanwhile, rejected the criticism. Anders Anundsen of the Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp) is from the other end of the political spectrum from Kosmo, who is a former defense minister and MP for the Labour Party. But  Anundsen thinks Kosmo and his staff do a good job and that his committee often is unanimous in supporting the Auditor General’s work.

A press release from Riksrevisjonen itself confirmed merely that the report “contained findings and recommendations” and “points out areas where the State Auditor General has good practice.” The state auditors, it said, “will use the recommendations for further improvement of their work.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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