While not perfect, Don Espersen, the man representing the Institute of Internal Auditors, said Bigger had laid a “solid foundation” in his time as auditor, and was “in full compliance” with the standards set for internal auditors. Full compliance, the audit committee was told later, is the highest mark, the equivalent of getting an ‘A’ in school.
Bigger’s office was judged on the basis of eight standards that are generally accepted in the profession, including whether or not the auditor is independent and whether they have the technical competence to do the job. Two auditors from IIB were in Sudbury Feb. 27-March 2 to hold interviews and conduct the review. They could have made one of three findings: full compliance, satisfactory compliance or not in compliance.
“Our finding, simply, was that the office was in full compliance of major standards,” Espersen said.
While there were areas where things could be done better, overall, IIB was impressed, while identifying some areas to work on, including establishing protocols between the auditor and city departments and detailing what is expected of each to make the process run smoothly.
“Again, these items are enhancements, and not criticisms of the auditor’s office,” he said. “These are things you could do, not things you must do.”
IIB also recommended the city take another look at Bigger’s mandate, which is to conduct value-for-money audits, in which the primary goal is to eliminate waste and find ways to do things in a more cost-efficient manner.
“Value-for-money audits have a mixed record,” Espersen said. “Sometimes they’re extremely successful; other times they have unintended consequences.”
Instead, they recommend audits that focus more on how effective departments are in doing their job, and whether or not there are proper checks and balances in place. It’s a logical progression from value-for-money audits, which typically is how the process begins.
“It’s a natural evolution,” he said. “But there’s no right or wrong answer to what you want your mix of auditor services to be. It’s simply a matter of determining what you want your Auditor General to do for the corporation.”
IIB also suggested bringing in a retired auditor or someone in the community with relevant skills to act as an adviser to the Audit Committee to help them understand the process, as well as the reports and what they mean.
“This is someone who would come on board periodically to help the committee sort through the technical issues dealing with audits and help resolve any disagreements that come from the reporting process,” he said. “They might take the position on a volunteer basis. What we’re looking for is a coach … not an expensive consultant.”
He also recommended training for committee members so they can better understand the information being presented to them from the auditor, and get a better understanding of the process. Key to that recommendation, however, is to reduce the size of the committee to 3-5 members, to make training more practical. Currently, all councillors are members of the Audit Committee.
“We understand you’ve already evaluated this suggestion. We’re just putting it on the list for future consideration.”
Councillors must also decide what sort of services it wants from the Auditor General, where the office should focus its efforts.
“Do you want to continue with the value-for-money audits, or would you like to … expand into other areas of responsibility?” Espersen said.
Mayor Marianne Matichuk congratulated the auditor’s office and welcomed some of IIB’s recommendations, some of which generated from the committee itself.
“So it’s good to see that it’s being brought forward. I think this will only help the internal audit process,” Matichuk said. “I look at the audit training, and I think it’s something we should seriously consider.”
Ward 2 Coun. Jacques Barbeau said it’s now up to council to decide what services it wants the auditor to provide.
“This is certainly an evolutionary approach,” Barbeau said. “We very much look for different things from the auditor. We have a fair bit of homework to do to decide exactly what we are looking for.”
The report presented May 22 was a draft report; the final version will be made public in two weeks.
A beaming Bigger said after the meeting that he hopes the report will boost confidence in what he is doing among council and staff, as well as the public.
“This is an excellent day for our office,” he said. “We’ve always known we were doing a good job. It’s good that someone independent reviewed our office. It helps citizens and councillors and management to have more confidence in the reports we do.”
He likes the idea of bringing in an adviser who could help council understand the reports and be able to ask more insightful questions. Councillors must also decide exactly what they want from his office.
“We can’t audit everything. We don’t have those resources,” he said. “The word of the day is evolution, and that’s what happening. People are learning and understanding more about what the audit process is all about.”