“I could recall my first day with AGO, unsure of what the future held. Looking back, I am pleased with my decision to join AGO, having gone through a fruitful adventure, and I look forward to what lies ahead.” - Acting Deputy Director, Mr Christopher Tang
I would say that there is no such thing as a typical day in the life of an auditor in the Auditor-General’s Office (AGO). Each day presents itself with different challenges and many learning opportunities.
I have the opportunity to be involved in both financial statements audits and selective audits. Most people are familiar with financial statements audits - which are conducted to provide an opinion on whether the financial statements are prepared in accordance with relevant accounting standards - but not so with selective audits. In this sharing, I shall therefore focus on my involvement in selective audits.
In selective audits, besides reviewing internal controls and compliance with rules and regulations, I also get to look into the use of public funds and resources by government agencies. This includes checking whether there were instances of excess, extravagance, or wastage in the use of the funds and resources, and whether the funds were used for the intended purposes.
“Seeing things for ourselves is as important as listening attentively. After obtaining reasonable knowledge of the entity I have been assigned to audit, I may ask for site visits to gain a first-hand experience of and to confirm my understanding of the entity’s operations.”
An important step of an audit is to interview key officers in order to understand the activities and work processes of the entity I would be auditing. The interviews can be straight-forward at times, but it can also be loaded with information which I have to comprehend within the short interview time span. Being an auditor, I would conscientiously jot down the information (for recording) and also make a quick assessment of whether the information provided is sufficient for the purpose of our audit. As we would be interviewing officers from various departments of the entity, each providing information about their own operations and activities, this information gathering process is like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle! As auditors, we need strong observation skills and the ability to think on our feet to ask additional questions where needed. This would greatly reduce the need for future clarifications with the officers.
Seeing things for ourselves is as important as listening attentively. After obtaining reasonable knowledge of the entity I have been assigned to audit, I may ask for site visits to gain a first-hand experience of and to confirm my understanding of the entity’s operations. At this point, I would like to relate an interesting site visit during my selective audit of the Singapore Turf Club (STC). For that audit, the team visited many places within the STC, such as the race tracks, veterinary facilities, and horse stables. We learnt how the quality of turf material can help to protect the horses’ legs from injuries during the race. We also went round the veterinary premises to witness how the horses were treated, as well as to learn how the cost of veterinary services and medicine is charged to the horse owners. We rounded up the site visit at the stables to understand the horses’ living conditions.
A day in my work life could entail surprise inspections too. I would conduct surprise cash counts to ensure that petty cash is accounted for. Together with the other members of the audit team, we would also conduct surprise inspections at various locations simultaneously and at various timings on several days to satisfy ourselves that, for example, contractors appointed by the entities were performing work in accordance with contracts, and that payments were made for goods delivered and services rendered. These surprise inspections are an important source of audit evidence.
“It is important for everyone to understand that AGO and the entities are all on the same side and have a common goal - that is, to improve governance.”
Life is not always a bed of roses as an AGO auditor, and I have encountered tricky situations dealing with officers of entities audited. I might not get the warmest reception and there might be times when the officers are wary of us due to misconceptions about the nature of our work. They might be defensive, especially when audit observations are brought up for discussion. In these situations, I have to remain firm and professional and would seek to clarify any doubts or concerns which they might have. I would explain that the purpose of an audit includes identifying gaps in controls and weaknesses so that these can be addressed; otherwise such gaps and weaknesses could be exploited, resulting in loss of monies and reputational damages to the entities. It is important for everyone to understand that AGO and the entities are all on the same side and have a common goal - that is, to improve governance. In this regard, it is important that as auditors, we conduct the audits in a professional, reasonable and objective manner. I am fortunate that I have managed to build valuable professional relationships with officers whom I have audited, and I have remained in contact with some of them even after the audits have ended.
Whenever I encounter complex audit issues, I would consult and discuss them with my colleagues and supervisors. Professional judgment is often required in selective audits, and it is beneficial to seek assistance and opinions from others in such circumstances. Such sharing sessions are excellent learning opportunities for me and it helps me to broaden my mind to different ways of handling an issue.
After gathering all the necessary information and explanations, I would prepare an audit report to highlight the audit observations noted. I found it very challenging when I first prepared an audit report. A well written audit report which presents observations in a concise, objective, and logical manner is of utmost importance, as it highlights issues clearly and succinctly to the management of the audited entity. All facts and observations in the audit report must be adequately supported with audit evidence, so that the observations can withstand scrutiny. It is a continuous learning process to write a clear and concise audit report. Over the years, I have managed to hone my writing skills to produce audit reports of better quality.
“Last but not least, a day in AGO is never complete without knowledge sharing.”
Last but not least, a day in AGO is never complete without knowledge sharing. Besides the day-to-day discussions on audit issues, AGO provides opportunities for officers to share our experience among the different audit teams. For example, the AGO Xchange is an annual event where audit teams would share their interesting or useful audit experiences in the past year, including the audit processes, with all fellow colleagues. We learn from one another and improve our auditing and presentation skills during such sessions.
I have embarked on a learning journey with AGO for almost six years, with new experiences, knowledge and technical skills acquired on a daily basis. I could recall my first day with AGO, unsure of what the future held. Looking back, I am pleased with my decision to join AGO, having gone through a fruitful adventure, and I look forward to what lies ahead.