Complains Window
State Audit Institution

The Problem

In accordance to the Basic Statute of the Sultanate of Oman which states that the public property shall be inviolable the state shall protect it and citizens and residents shall preserve it, the State Audit Institution (SAI) was promulgated in 1999 as a governmental entity with financial and administrative autonomy. This was a decisive turning point that ensured and asserted the desirable audit autonomy and neutrality in the Sultanate.

There are a total of 220 government entities that are auditable by SAI. They could also audit private companies in which the government has more 51% stake. The audits were limited to financial audits of the organizations and companies. With limited resources and jurisdiction, SAI could only make recommendations to the organizations and companies. SAI could not enforce their findings even if malpractices were uncovered. The onus to implement those recommendations solely lay in the hands of those organizations and companies. The SAI was akin to “a lion which could roar but cannot bite”. Hence, transparency on the use of public property was limited in the past.

Previously, the SAI conducted an average of about 177 audits annually. Complaints or feedback from concerned citizens were also received regarding some of the government organizations or companies. However, since it was not mandated to release any findings to the public, such complaints were not properly documented. There was no proper channel to follow-up any complaints or grievances faced by the citizens in an organized manner. Furthermore, citizens were inconvenient as they had to report their complaints or feedback personally at SAI office in Muscat. Public fury over the lack of transparency in government operations and activities and inefficiency took a bitter turn in February 2011 Arab Spring in which the citizens turned protestors gathered demanding an end to corruption and better distribution of oil revenue.

One of the major reforms following this event was empowering the SAI as the key government apparatus to combat corruption and ensure more accountability, transparency, and fairness in government performance. The SAI was renamed the State Financial and Administrative Audit Institution and expanded its prerogatives promulgated through Royal Decree No 27/2011. SAI was granted more power to protect State Public funds in expanded functions which includes the ability to conduct audit in more fields apart from administration and finance as well as the ability to enforce recommendations and implement changes in the audited organisations. The SAI can now enforce the audited entity to comply and issue penalty for failure to implement. In collaboration with the Public Prosecutor, the SAI can bring to trial fraud cases and recover public funds amass in corrupt manner. The findings of SAI reports are now disseminated to the Cabinet of Ministers, Shura Council (elected public representatives) and State Council (appointed representatives).

With more authority, responsibility and resources, the reformed SAI can now effectively administer public concerns and feedback in an effort to protect public fund and ensure the effective and efficient delivery of government services to the citizens.

Solution and Key Benefits

 What is the initiative about? (the solution)
Led by the Chairman, SAI immediately embarked on restructuring the organisation to meet the new roles. This included the need for the development of the various aspects of oversight mechanism and more focus on the objectives SAI attempts to realize, notably the due protection of public funds and ensuring the economic, efficient and effective use of resources. The reformed SAI are empowered to conduct financial and administration audits in all fields including financial audit in its according and legal aspects, administrative audit, performance audit, decisions made with regards to financial contraventions, investments and all accounts of government entities and private companies (in which government has more than 40% shareholding instead of 51%) as well as other functions assigned by His Majesty, Sultan Qaboos Bin Said.

Based on an Administrative Order by Chairman of SAI on 4 Jul 2011, a Department of Social Community (DSC) was also established to enhance the relationship between SAI and the community in their bid to enhance public services and protection of public funds. DSC key functions includes collating, registering, tracking and monitoring of public feedback, concerns and complaints through various channels such as emails, online forms, hotline, online forums and chat rooms, newspaper, social media networks (forums, FaceBook) as well as face-to-face interviews.

In addition, 3 new Directorate of Audit was established in 3 major cities. This is to ensure that the SAI actions can be implemented and follow-up ensuring more thorough and comprehensive work done at the SAI.

Through the SAI portal, members of the public can submit their complaints, feedback or concerns with attached documents. They can also contact the SAI via dedicated Hotlines, complaints windows, special emails and DG of Social Committee also used twitter and social media networks to reach out to the public. These feedbacks or complaints are logged and categorized into 5 separate categories; abuse of power, administration and financial fraud, delay of services, improper tendering process and others. These feedbacks are then channeled to the respective departments for further actions and investigations.

As a result of this initiative, a total of 377 feedbacks were registered since the establishment of DSC and the launched of the electronic feedback/compliant system in July 2011. Since then, the reformed SAI conducted a total of 350 audits which is 98% more audit as compared to 177 entities in 2009/10. These audits were more effective as they were more targeted audits based on the feedbacks received. To date 35 cases were prosecuted under the new law and a total amount of approximately 1 billion OMR (2.6 billion USD) of public fund was also recovered. Most importantly, the SAI successfully restored transparency and accountability in the government entities, thus boosting public confidence.

Actors and Stakeholders

 Who proposed the solution, who implemented it and who were the stakeholders?
The Department of Social Community was established via Administrative Order by Chairman of SAI on Jul 2011. At the same time, the SAI portal with the eForm for feedback and complaints was also launched.

Through regulated audits by the new SAI and public feedback, the citizens and residents now can confidently alert the SAI of any wrongdoings in any public services, government-owned organizations and private companies. At the same time, these combined feedbacks from SAI and the public will highlight weaknesses in each organization’s performance and the means to improve government services.

Once the complaints are received and categorized, they are channeled to the relevant specialised departments in the SAI. All complaints, feedbacks and their findings are being monitored and follow-up by the Chairman’s office through the DSC. Some sensitive cases are even handled by the Chairman personally to ensure complete confidentiality.

The SAI team prepared manuals on how to prioritise and categories at complaints based on certain process, policy and evaluation criteria. Through the use of ICT, DSC is able to send acknowledgements to the user and case number assigned to each case upon successful registering of the feedback through the various channels. These citizens can follow-up on their respective cases by calling the Hotlines or emailing to the DSC. DSC staff can retrieved any of the cases easily and electronically by either entering the name, civil ID, subject and the date of complaints filed. Through the various means of communication, citizens based outside the capital can easily put forth their views, feedbacks and concerns to the SAI without having to travel to the capital. In this way, the SAI has successful reached out to the members of the public in their effort to protect public fund and improve government services and eradicate corruption.

(a) Strategies

 Describe how and when the initiative was implemented by answering these questions
 a.      What were the strategies used to implement the initiative? In no more than 500 words, provide a summary of the main objectives and strategies of the initiative, how they were established and by whom.
The reformed SAI is guided by the following objectives :

1) To protect State public funds and ensure the adequacy of the traditional and automated internal control systems, the integrity of financial transactions, accounting entries, and abidance to the laws and regulations on the financial systems and personnel.
2) To expose the financial violations by the auditees.
3) To indicate the deficiencies or shortcomings in the applicable laws, regulations, and systems related to the financial and personnel aspects and propose rectification thereof.
4) To evaluate the performance of the auditees and ensure they use the resources economically, efficiently and effectively.

Open communication strategy between the public and the SAI and optimsing the use of ICT are keys to the attainment of these objectives. Restoring the public trust and confidence help the SAI to protect the use of public funds in more effective and efficient ways. The SAI optimised the use of the lastest web-based technology to inform and seek quality feedback from them. Face to face confidential meetings can also be done at SAI offices in various regions; hence the public do not need to travel all the way to Muscat, the capital city. By reaching out to the public and educating them on their sacred tasks of protecting public task enhances these symbiotic relationships and weed out corruptions in government organizations and government-own companies. Such efforts contribute to transform business transactions in Oman to be more on a level playing field.

(b) Implementation

 b.      What were the key development and implementation steps and the chronology? No more than 500 words
Feb 2011- Restructuring of SAI and Planning of the SAI portal and the system

Jul 2011 – Portal launched with the Administrative Order for the establishment of the Department of Social Community

Due to the urgency of the situation, the initiative and the system were planned and implemented within in 6 months.

(c) Overcoming Obstacles

 c.      What were the main obstacles encountered? How were they overcome? No more than 500 words
1) Business process re-engineering in SAI
With the establishment of the DSC, there was a need to revise the business processes within SAI to align its functions with the rest of the directorates. This includes the re-engineering and streamlining of business processes with the other Directorate based on the revised SAI functions. The IT team along with DSC worked in tandem to review and revise the process. The support and the leadership of the Chairman are crucial in ensuring that the revised processes are accepted and implemented.

2) Resistance from staff
Following up on feedback and investigating each cases meant additional workload for the existing staff. There were initiate resistance with the new processes and department. This was overcome effectively with major career enhancement and improvement in existing staff welfare and benefits. In addition, the increase in human resources eases the increasing workload. SAI human resources increased 58% from 275 in Jan 2011 to 473 in Dec 2011. An additional of about 100 more personnel will also be recruited within the next few months to boost the SAI’s staff strength to about 600 personnel.

3) Staff not trained to handle such complaints
As the DSC and the system were implemented hurriedly, staff could not be trained to handle public feedback effectively. Since then, specialised training in handling Social Communication were conducted for DSC staff locally and overseas such in the art of dealing with the citizens’ complaints and management of community feedback.

4) Mindset Change
The toughest challenge was changing the mindset of the staff on SAI’s new roles and its duty to the public. In these revised roles, the public is the customers and SAI has a duty to protect public fund in the best public interests and that all government organizations have a duty to serve the public. SAI conducted constant communications with respective government organizations and private companies through regular dialogues and meetings are conducted regularly to help change this mindset.

5) Citizens and some members of the public are not IT Savvy
Initial teething problems were faced by users of the SAI Portal such as uploading issues and connectivity. However, through dedicated service by the IT staff, these issues were solved. For those not IT savvy, they are directed to the Hotline in which they can talk to the DSC staff and record their feedback.

(d) Use of Resources

 d.      What resources were used for the initiative and what were its key benefits? In no more than 500 words, specify what were the financial, technical and human resources’ costs associated with this initiative. Describe how resources were mobilized
- Human Resources
The Department of Social Community is managed by a team of 5 personnel, all professionally trained to handle and manage communication with the public. These personnel were recruited to manage the complaints and feedback received from the public through various means. The DSC is responsible for the following functions;

1) Enhance the relationship between SAI and the community
2) Develop the communication channel between SAI and the community
3) Collate, analyse and manage all complaints and feedback from the citizens
4) Sense the real needs of the citizens from Government sector specially in the provision of public services and the proper use of public funds
5) Develop database to document all shortages related to quality assurance of public sector as well the citizens complains
6) Conduct public awareness campaign on the new roles and functions of the SAI in country and how to protect public funds and resources
7) Obtain, analyse and synthesize all information from various media sources including online forums on general reactions and comments of the public services and projects

- Technical and Financial
Supporting them is an IT enabled environment which included a full web-based system and a pervasive database system. The web-based SAI Portal cost 5000 OMR to develop and the local database system was developed by the IT Department. As an added security all passwords to the system are encrypted.

Sustainability and Transferability

  Is the initiative sustainable and transferable?
The concept of social community department and the related system is sustainable as 377 audit assignments have been conducted based on the feedback and complaints received from the public. Out of which, 35 cases were brought to justice and approx 1 billion OMR (2.6 billion USD) is also recovered in 2011. This initiative is sustainable as it is aligned with the revised functions of the SAI. With this initiative, SAI is an important apparatus to protect public funds and improve government services to the public. The public has an avenue to voice their grievances and give their feedback with the confidence that the wrong doings will be corrected, eradicating corrupt or unfair practices and enhancing government services.

In addition, the SAI is currently embarking on a plan to upgrade Audit Management System in 2013 which will integrate the portal and the feedback system into one combined application. This system will be also be linked to the regional offices via the Oman Government network and will include enhance electronic services in which all audited entities can upload all requirement documents online instead of manual submission. This would enable the SAI offices across the country to retrieve and view all the documents, audit reports and observations in real time. In the near future, the Chairman of the SAI or Executive Management can view all feedback, their status and related information instantly from anywhere at any time.

Lessons Learned

 What are the impact of your initiative and the lessons learned?
1) Social Impact
This initiative is a success because a total of 377 audit assignments targeted at identified malpractices were carried out from the complaints from Jul 2012 to Jul 2012. About 35 cases were brought to justice. Now, the citizens become a partner in ensuring transparency and efficient government. Thus, boosting the public’s faith in the government to eradicate corrupt or malpractices and to ensure transparency in a level playing field. In addition, their complaints and feedback are now properly recorded, handled and monitor giving them the assurance that the government takes their feedback seriously and is working hard to protect public funds without fear of being marginalized.

2) Financial Impact
Between 2010 to 2011 approximately 1.3 billion OMR (3.38 USD) of public funds were recovered and saved. Almost ¾ of which was recovered and saved in 2011. This clearly indicated the success of SAI targeted audit efforts arising from citizens’ feedback.

3) Marketing and Awareness
Prior to the Arab Spring, the SAI was viewed as an audit institution which provided only recommendations and was powerless to enforce their recommendations. However with the revised roles and significant empowerment, the public is becoming aware of SAI’s roles and benefits to the citizens. These citizens have rights to quality service for government and the protection of public funds and assets. Good feedback from customers and citizens along with their responses from social media network, online chat forum “Sabla”, etc, provided the impetus for SAI to uphold their roles with integrity and honor. Government organisations are now more receptive of public feedback and SAI’s recommendations. They have also approached SAI for constructive feedback on their services which are conducted through regular meetings.

Lessons Learnt
a. Highest support from stakeholder especially from the Chairman with the DSC reports reporting directly to him was essential.
b. Need to carry out business process re-engineering and setting out the policy and procedures on handling the complaints before launching the portal.
c. The competencies of the staff handling and managing the complaints had to be ascertained before putting then on the job. This would reduce any adverse communication.
d. Implementing the initiative was very tedious and demanding. If more time were available, the IT system could be integrated into the main Audit Management System. Through the use of dashboard for monitoring and tracking the situations, the Chairman can monitor and enhance strategic planning and reporting.
e. Provide automation and linking for every audit team so that they can connect with the SAI Head office anywhere and anytime. This would assist in expediting their communications with the Head office

Contact Information

Institution Name:   State Audit Institution
Institution Type:   Government Agency  
Contact Person:   Rashid Al Zidi
Title:   IT Director  
Telephone/ Fax:   +96824736310/24736160
Institution's / Project's Website:  
Postal Code:  
Country:   Oman

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