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African auditors advocating international auditing standards

It is a common perception that the African public sector and Western-style bureaucracy are very different in nature, and that our norms cannot, and should not, be transferred to Africa. Yet a new doctoral thesis from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, shows that African auditors beg to differ.
’Researchers seem to have underestimated the power of professional norms as a tool to create change in developing countries,’ says the author of the thesis Maria Gustavson from the School of Public Administration, University of Gothenburg, who has studied how auditors in Sub-Saharan Africa relate to international audit standards.

Many researchers claim that the large differences in norms, rules and cultural contexts between Africa and the Western world make ideas and concepts that work well in the Western world inappropriate in African countries. They also tend to emphasise the problematic in transferring bureaucratic models to African countries, due to the continent’s history of having Western countries and international organisations impose their ideas, norms and administrative reforms on them.

However, researchers have not shown much interest in empirically investigating the thoughts of African public officials regarding how their organisations should be reformed and what changes they are trying to implement. As a result, this is exactly what Gustavson set out to do in her thesis. She interviewed and observed auditors in Southern Africa in connection with courses, conferences and meetings. She also conducted two case studies of the Supreme Audit Institutions in Namibia and Botswana.

Contrary to what is commonly thought, her results show that the auditors see themselves as belonging to a profession without geographical boundaries. And the auditors emphasised that if their profession has agreed on the ‘best way’ to perform audits, the auditors can and should comply with the given standards.

‘They see no reason why they should reinvent the wheel. In fact, the auditors see regional and global standards as a good thing, since then they can support each other and learn from colleagues in other countries,’ says Gustavson.

This professional identity implies that they are constantly trying to reform their organisations in order to better live up to the professional standards established at the international level.

The thesis was successfully defended on Friday 17 February 2012.
For more information, please contact: Maria Gustavson
Telephone: +46 (0)31 786 5190
Mobile: +46 (0)707 29 11 87

Helena Aaberg | idw
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