Auditing public debt in a crisis (COVID-19 considerations and the Public Debt Auditor’s experience) was the focus of discussions at the annual meeting of the International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions (INTOSAI) Working Group on Public Debt (WGPD). The virtual meetings conducted through Zoom were facilitated by the Philippine Commission on Audit (COA) as Chairman of the INTOSAI WGPD.

Around 38 member countries participated in the meetings that were held in two batches on 19 and 20 May 2021 for Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs) in the Eastern and Western Hemispheres. Officials from SAIs Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Lithuania, Moldova, Qatar, Russia, Turkey, Ukraine, Yemen, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Seychelles, Maldives, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Indonesia, Thailand, China, and Fiji were part of the first batch while SAIs Ecuador, Chile, USA, Argentina, Brazil, Gabon, Portugal, Austria, Egypt, Northern Macedonia, Zambia, Finland, Bulgaria, Romania, and Korea were part of the second batch. Representatives from SAI France attended as observers.

The participants agreed that the public debt situation in most developing countries had been under pressure and stressed the need for effective debt management as an integral component of public financial management because of the fiscal exposures and heightened debt crisis risks that developing countries are facing due to the pandemic.

The meetings also emphasized the importance to paying attention to financial transparency to prevent a debt crisis to help both lenders and borrowers assess the sustainability of public debt and finally come up with a deliberate decision on the volume, conditions and financing of the loans.

COA Chairperson Michael G. Aguinaldo reported on the WGPD activities and accomplishments over the past year. “I hope this meeting will be productive and will allow all of us an opportunity to build better collaboration and keep us united in our role as public debt auditors,” Chairperson Aguinaldo said.

In his Chairman’s Report, Mr. Aguinaldo recounted recent accomplishments of the working group including the success of GUID 5250 – Guidance on the Audit of Public Debt, as well as the progress on the implementation of the group’s current projects and activities.

The meeting covered a wide range of topics such as Public Debt Landscape (Audit Perspective) discussed by the SAI of India; Audit From Home & From Office: The Auditor’s work in a COVID-19 Pandemic discussed by the SAI of Indonesia; Follow-up Audit of Public Debt Management discussed by the SAI of Georgia; Auditing Government Debt Management in Exceptional Circumstances discussed by the SAI of Finland; COVID-19 Fiscal Transparency discussed by the SAI of Portugal; Post-pandemic Auditing: Challenge for SAIs discussed by the SAI of Argentina; and Pandemic Impact on Brazilian Public Debt discussed by the SAI of Brazil.

Ms. Archana P. Shirsat, Deputy Director General of the INTOSAI Development Initiative (IDI) discussed IDI reflections on auditing in COVID-19 times.

Meanwhile, Ms. Daniela M. Prates of the Debt Finance Analysis Unit of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development discussed Public Debt Landscape (Stakeholder’s Perspective). Ms. Lea Hakim from the World Bank discussed Debt Transparency, and Mr. Obert Nyawata and Ms. Karla Vasquez of the International Monetary Fund discussed Public Debt Management, Transparency and the Impact of COVID-19.