UNITAR e-learning Course on «Audit of Public Debt» Module 4: Audit of Public Debt Course Material written by Dr. Enrique Cosio-Pascal

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1 UNITAR e-learning Course on «Audit of Public Debt» Module 4: Audit of Public Debt Course Material written by Dr. Enrique Cosio-Pascal

2 Module 4 Contents ABBREVIATIONS AND ACRONYMS BACKGROUND METHODOLOGICAL ASPECTS Basic Concepts: Internal Controls and Risk Assessment Why SAIs Examine Internal Controls? Components of Internal Control: the COSO Framework Control Environment Risk Assessment Control Activities and Procedures CBDMS and Communications Monitoring of Controls Gathering Audit Evidence Analysing Audit Evidence Formulating Audit Findings AUDITING PUBLIC DEBT AND EXTERNAL INFORMATION What is Credit Rating? Pros and Cons of Credit Rating Concepts and Factors Considered for Credit Rating Fitch Japan Credit Rating Agency (JCR) Moody s Standard & Poor s (S & P) Credit Ratings and Rating Procedures The Rating Process Multilateral Institutions CONDUCTING AN AUDIT OF PUBLIC DEBT AUDITING THE PDM EXECUTIVE FUNCTIONS Gathering Audit Evidence on Executive Functions Methods for Gathering Evidence AUDITING THE PDM OPERATIONAL FUNCTIONS Coordinating and Monitoring Functions Back Office Functions: Recording and Operating/Monitoring Middle Office Functions: Strategy and Risk Management Front Office: Issuing, Negotiation and Domestic Markets BIBLIOGRAPHY i

3 Abbreviations and Acronyms AGO: Accountant General s Office ALM: Asset Liability Management AfDB: African Development Bank AsDB: Asian Development Bank CBDMS: Computer Based Debt Management System CPI: Consumer Price Index COSO: Committee of Sponsoring Organisations of the Treadway Commission DCY: Abbreviation for domestic currency DMO: Debt Management Office DOD: Debt Outstanding and Disbursed, synonym of stock of debt in nominal value DRS: World Bank Debtor Reporting System DS: Debt Service, i.e. principal repayments and interest payments DSM: Debt Sustainability Model, shared by the World Bank UNCTAD and the Common Wealth Secretariat EBDM: Executive Board on Debt Management EDMF: Effective Debt Management Functions EUR: Euro, Eurocurrency of the 11 EU countries that joined the Euro GAO: US Government Accountability Office (previous Accounting Office) HIPC: Heavily Indebted Poor Countries IADB: Inter-American Development Bank IFIs: International Financial Institutions, i.e. IMF and World Bank IFMS: Integrated Financial Management System IIP: International Investment Position, related to SDDS reporting INTOSAI: International Organisation of Superior Audit Institutions. IMF: International Monetary Fund IT: Information Technology JCR: Japan Credit Rating Agency LIC: Low Income Country: World Bank Definition MTDS: World Bank and IMF Medium-Term Debt Management Strategy NDF: Nordic Development Fund NPISH: Non-profit institutions serving households subsector OECD: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. PDM: Public Debt Management PV: Present value REER: Real Effective Exchange Rate SAI: Superior Audit Institution SDDS: Special Data Dissemination Standard SDR: Special Drawing Rights, unit of account of the IMF SNA: UN System of National Accounts, 1993 S & P: Standard & Poor s UN: United Nations UNCTAD: United Nations Conference on Trade and Development 1

4 UNITAR: USD: United Nations Institute on Training and Research United States Dollar 2

5 1. Background Recent events and the globalisation of capital markets have heightened the need for sound public debt management practices and prudential risk on managing public liabilities. It is clear that there is a need for protecting the governments budgetary exposures. SAIs can play an active role in protecting the financial condition of governments by promoting the need for sound public debt strategies and risk management practices, data disclosure policies and effective supervisory-regulatory regime for the public sector financial management, so that the risks associated with future obligations and claims on the government s budget, as well as possible contingent obligations arising from the private sector, can be minimised. SAIs should act within their legal authority when adopting these roles. More specifically, through performance audits of debt management practices, SAIs may: Play an active role in protecting the financial condition of governments by helping to ensure that sound and robust public debt practices are in place Encourage governments to produce better financial information and publish key debt information in order to analyse, assess their financial vulnerability and exposure Assess how well governments perform in the release of data disclosure Encourage their government to adhere to the international initiatives aimed at improving statistics disclosure and data requirements Encourage governments to ensure that regulators and supervisors in the financial sector adopt practices that comply with international standards, since a more robust financial services sector will in turn reduce the vulnerability of the public debt to events affecting the private sector balance sheet Encourage governments to focus more on vulnerability monitoring and give high priority to risk management Encourage data disclosure and promote the application of a proper regulatory and supervisory framework to be adopted for the financial services sector 3

6 1.1. Methodological Aspects Auditing internal controls of public debt addresses the essential aspects to determine whether debt management is carried out in accordance with the best practices. SAIs should verify that: A recording and management system is implemented and that high quality control on data input and management allow for reliable reports based on the system s information The government has an indebtedness strategy to get into debt and that it is translated into measurable benchmarks in order to evaluate the degree of success in implementing the strategy The strategy and the benchmarks should include, inter alia, debt structure in terms of currencies, maturities, rates and financial instruments Debt management includes risk assessment in order to guarantee and support the adopted strategy based on prudent practices According to the Public Debt Committee of INTOSAI 1, a correct definition of debt should be taken as the basis for the audit. It is necessary for this definition to be accurate in order to avoid doubts on the usage of particular concepts, as it was proposed in Module 1, Section However, each country may have slight different definitions for domestic purposes. Public debt may be covered by a broad, all-encompassing definition when looking at the contribution of the public sector to the economy. Alternatively, if the concern were one of accountability, the definition would be narrowed to debt issued by a government entity with appropriate authority and responsibility. Each SAI will need to exercise its own judgment on the appropriate entities and commitments to be included. Great attention has to be paid to this definition in case is different to the one utilised by international organisations. The definition should be Clear for the report to be easily understandable Consistent throughout time Suitable for analysis Comprehensive, in order to assure that particular concepts have been included The definition of debt must make clear its main components so that its management, accountability and auditing are carried out on the same basis, creating the conditions for generating historical data. Furthermore, the definition must be in line with the terms and concepts usually used by IFIs so as to undertake international benchmarking exercises. 1 See INTOSAI (2007a) p. 9. 4

7 The most important element for carrying out a performance audit of public debt is that the conceptual framework includes a broad definition of debt that enables to undertake an assessment of management, vulnerability, sustainability, the actors competence and accountability. Conceptualisation of debt, in any case, must embrace total debt of central government, its organisations, its firms, public financial system, i.e. the monetary authority (central bank) and public development banks; the state and municipality governments, explicit contingent liabilities, and the potential existence of contingent liabilities. Contingent liabilities are obligations that arise from particular discrete events that may or may not occur. They can be explicit or implicit. A key aspect of such liabilities, which distinguishes them from current financial liabilities and debt, is that one or more conditions or events must be fulfilled before a liability materialises. Implicit contingencies may be recognised when the cost of not assuming them is believed to be unacceptably high in political or economic terms. A broad debt definition of public debt does not imply that SAIs must audit every practices of public debt management in the same audit. Sometimes it is advisable to prioritise, the specific practices that may cause problem. Each SAI, according to its material and human resources and legal framework might define a strategy to deal with, at different periods and systematically, the different areas involved in debt management. It is advisable that audits deal with specific issues, but that the analysis is made with an adequate focus and high quality, in order to fulfil its goal of offering substantive recommendations and promoting better debt-management practices. At the beginning of an audit of public debt, SAIs must decide which components of internal controls to examine and the depth of analysis of each component. The audit s depth will depend on the SAI s legal mandate, previous audit work carried out and what resources are available to perform the audit. Some SAIs may have a restricted legal mandate to audit sovereign debt. Other SAIs may have a broader mandate to review public debt issues, but lack technical expertise required to review complex public debt transactions that have significant linkages to fiscal and monetary operations. Therefore, a broad legal mandate and a comprehensive capacity building programme on PDM for SAIs is essential for performing an efficient public debt audit. 5

8 1.1.1 Basic Concepts: Internal Controls and Risk Assessment SAIs can define the scope of debt audits by using the five components of a system of internal control: Control Environment Risk Assessment Control Activities Information and Communication Monitoring Each component can be viewed as a starting point that represents a potential audit area. Each component leads to areas whose audit may vary in scope and technical complexity. Control Environment leads auditors to examine sovereign debt management s attitude, awareness, and actions concerning controls. This component may be implemented by SAIs having a clear mandate to audit effectiveness of debt management. The other four internal control areas are more closely related to traditional audits of internal controls. For example, risk assessment would lead auditors to identify what events and circumstances affect the ability of debt management to record, process, and report debt information 2. International auditing standards require the auditor to obtain an understanding of the entity's environment, including its internal control environment, that is sufficient to assess the risks of material misstatement of the financial statements whether due to fraud or error, and sufficient to design and perform further audit procedures to address these risks. This section will discuss about internal controls that are applied in the public debt and how the auditor can examine them Why SAIs Examine Internal Controls? The public debt portfolio is often the largest financial portfolio in the country and can have a far-reaching impact on financial stability. Therefore, effective public debt management is essential. Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs) examine internal controls on public debt management in order to encourage the proper reporting and sound management of public debt. The increase in the volatility of global financial markets, the emergence of complex debt instruments and 2 For instance see the Committee of Sponsoring Organizations (COSO) of the Treadway Commission that published in 1992 an exhaustive study of internal controls in the United States entitled Internal Control - Integrated Framework. Following COSO s report, similar reports were issued in (1) Canada by the Controls Committee (COCO), (2) the United Kingdom, (3) the United States by the General Accounting Office (GAO), and (3) internationally by the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC). 6

9 practices, the possibility of lack of consistency in valuation of debt instruments and lack of transparency in reporting debt by public entities may pose formidable challenges for SAIs. These complicating factors affect the debt service and call into question the proper criteria for the assessment of debt operations and debt sustainability. At the same time, legislative bodies have become increasingly aware of the interrelationships that exist between debt, fiscal policy, and economic policy. These situations make audits of debt management operations have become more challenging; internal controls have become more inclusive Components of Internal Control: the COSO Framework Within the COSO Framework 3, internal controls are currently defined as the set of procedures and tools that help managers achieve operational, financial, and compliance objectives. These are viewed as a continuous process, affected by an entity s management, designed to provide reasonable assurance that the objectives of the entity are being achieved in the following categories: Operations are effective and efficient Financial, budget, and programme assessment reports are relevant and reliable Responsible officials comply with applicable laws and regulations The evaluation of internal controls of public debt management might not provide absolute assurance, but they for sure increase the likelihood of achieving operational, financial, and compliance objectives with respect to debt management. Internal control, as it is stated above, consists of the following five components: Control environment Risk assessment Control activities and procedures CBDMS and communication Monitoring of controls The above components of internal control are applicable to audits in general. The division of internal control into the five components provides a useful framework for auditors to consider how different aspects of an entity's internal control may affect the audit. However, it does not 3 See Web Site COSO is recognised the world over for providing guidance on critical aspects of organisational governance, business ethics, internal control, enterprise risk management, fraud, and financial reporting. 7

10 necessarily reflect how an entity considers and implements internal controls. Accordingly, auditors may use different terminology or conceptual frameworks to describe various aspects of internal control, and their effect on the audit other than those described above, provided all of the requirements of internal control are met Control Environment The control environment is the foundation of internal controls by virtue of its influence on the conduct of public debt personnel. Senior debt management is responsible for establishing and nurturing a control environment that promotes ethical values, human resource policies that support PDM objectives, an organisational structure with clear lines of responsibility and communication, and computer-based information systems that incorporate adequate security controls. Senior debt management is also responsible for achieving public debt objectives within the limits of its authority, ensuring that staffs are conscious of the benefits of an adequate control environment, as well as monitoring external factors that affect the government s ability and willingness to service its debt. The control environment will cover the following items: Laws, Rules and Regulations As explained in Section 2.1 of Module 1, the legal framework should clearly set out the authority to borrow domestically and externally as well as undertake debt-related transactions such as public securities buybacks or any kind of swaps, issue loan guarantees and on-lent foreign resources on behalf of the central government. The Parliament because its constitutional power to approve central government tax and spending measures is the authority that approves borrowing on behalf of the central government. The first level of delegation of the borrowing power therefore comes from Parliament down to the executive branch for example to the Minister of Finance, this delegation is found in a legislation dealing with public indebtedness, which normally is a Law on Public Debt, the Budget System Law or a Fiscal Responsibility Act, which together with the annual fiscal year Budget Law gives the primary legislation framework for public indebtedness. The delegation of the borrowing power is in most cases restricted by a statement for which purposes the executive can borrow, for instance, to finance the budget deficit, to refinance maturing loans or by a limit on the annual net borrowing or the total outstanding debt. Another common constraint is that the Parliament retains the power to ratify certain loan agreements, particularly loans that are external debt. This ratification procedure should be limited preferably to international agreements concluded between sovereign governments or agreements between a sovereign government and another subject of international law, 8

11 such as the IFIs or regional development banks. In any case, it is of paramount importance that the ratification would be dealt with as a financing package, and not on a loan-by-loan basis, leaving the financial technicalities to the ultimate body receiving the delegation for borrowing, e.g. the DMO. For practical reasons it is common that the executive delegates the borrowing power to an implementing body, like a directorate at the Ministry of Finance or Central Bank or a designated DMO that contracts or issue debt on behalf of the central government. How the operational delegation is implemented would be normally found in a set of rules and regulations, such as executive orders, decrees, ordinances, function manuals and so forth. It is important that the line of delegation is clear, both for internal control and for due diligence purposes. It has to be borne in mind that creditors require a legally binding and enforceable contract, through the legally authorised body, with the central government in its capacity as the borrower. What is stated above for borrowing, also applies to the issue of loan guarantees and to on-lending foreign resources domestically. Loan guarantees and on-lending of foreign resources normally cannot be undertaken by the executive without approval by Parliament. In the rare cases when these guarantees constitutionally can be issued by the executive without any delegation from Parliament, it would be sufficient to check that the issuing entity is properly authorised through the rules and regulations. The rules and regulations define how debt managers work with their counterparts in other government units, including the Budget Department and the Central Bank, and the extent of SAI s authority on debt matters. SAIs should review their countries legal framework and actual debt procedures to gain an understanding of the environment in which debt managers operate and determine the scope of their audit. Some laws may prohibit the use of public borrowing to finance recurring expenditures and other laws may impose an overall public debt ceiling that can only be changed by the legislature 4. The legal framework may also impose audit limitations for SAIs. In some countries SAIs might not have legal authority to perform a complete audit. For example, SAIs might not have legal authority to examine debt data of major government controlled enterprises that issue loans guaranteed by the central government. In addition to a review of the laws and regulations, SAIs need to verify that laws and written procedures are followed in practice. Auditors should have the ability to observe actual debt operations, communicate with the DMO s staff and have access to their reports. 4 In countries that have advanced PDM techniques, this ceiling is fixed on net flows, as the net flow will determine the variation of indebtedness from one period to the other. See Module 1, Section

12 As part of a debt audit, some SAIs may be able to examine how public debt estimates are programmed into the budget as a use and source of budget expenditures (debt service) and resources (disbursements in cash, on-lent and direct loans by the government debt service). In these audits, SAIs should be able to assess the DMO s ability to provide budget officials reliable debt service requirements over the next fiscal year. Budget documents can also be viewed as the blueprint for new debt issuance over the next budget cycle, as they define cash resources required to carry out the government s investment and operating programmes. SAIs would also examine how public borrowing is used to fund temporary cash operating deficits, which requires close communication between cash and DMO s staff, in case the DMO is not in charge of this function. A key element of a strong cash management system that directly affects public debt operations is the capacity to develop cash-flow projections based on expected receipts and disbursements. This forecasting capacity depends on the government s budget execution and the ability to promptly collect cash and consolidate cash balances in a single treasury account. Failure to match the timing of cash inflows and disbursements may lead to unnecessary amounts of public debt and excessive amounts of idle cash. Integrity and Ethical Values The effectiveness of internal controls cannot rise above the integrity and ethical values of the individuals who create, manage, and monitor them. The integrity and ethical values of senior public debt officials are essential to maintaining effective internal controls because senior management can override internal controls Human Resource Policies The increasingly complex nature of public debt operations, which may involve multiple currencies, variable interest rates, debt restructuring, currency and interest rates swaps, as well as calling for an understanding of sophisticated financial markets, demands increasingly skilled staff to manage public debt instruments. Senior staffs at the DMO are responsible for obtaining the competence levels necessary to achieve public debt objectives and assigning employees with the appropriate skills to each task. A policy decision has to be made at a very high level for hiring and retaining skilled personnel. This may involve salary policies, but also career and training perspectives, as well as advantage in kind or in special facilities for taking mortgages or loans for buying vehicles. Important policies for retaining personnel are training programmes and recycling sessions for the DMO officials, which eventually could involve travelling 10

13 abroad. This is part of the Resourcing Function that was dealt with in Section of Module 1. Organisational structure Most DMOs have several operational units with different management functions and reporting responsibilities 5. Public debt managers have two basic levels for assuming functions, which are a high-level function that involves monitoring debt operations as well as coordinating with the government s bodies fiscal and monetary policies; and operational functions that involve contracting and issuing debt, managing public debt risk and cost, as well as specific debt operations and transactions and reporting on public indebtedness. This was dealt with extensively in Section 2.2 of Module 1. Computer-Based Debt Management Systems (CBDMS) The CBDMS has major implications for audits of sovereign debt operations. Auditors must have sufficient computer expertise to perform tests of the internal controls built into computer systems, which are commonly classified into general and application controls. This internal control is so important for a DMO that the detail on the internal controls of the CBDMS is as discussed in Section in this module. External Factors External factors that may affect the government s ability and willingness to service its debt should not be ignored by SAIs, even in audits of limited scope restricted to a debt management unit. External sources of information can help SAIs to verify information provided by debt management staff. The ability to assess external factors and have access to debt information from third parties strengthens SAIs capacity to evaluate the likelihood of an efficient PDM. The discussion of the international agencies concerns in the PDM audit is discussed in Section 1.2 in this module Risk Assessment Risk assessment is the process of identifying circumstances and events that can prevent senior management from meeting debt objectives and measuring the probability of their occurrence. Operational risks arise in the normal course of managing debt transactions. Fraud risks arise from intentional misdeeds committed to gain personal benefit. The responsibility for identifying risks and developing plans to manage those lies with the DMO s senior management. A risk plan would describe procedures to minimise damages caused by the risks. In the course of an audit of internal controls 5 This has been reviewed in detail in Module 1, Part 2. 11

14 of debt, SAIs would examine the risk plan and compare the actual performance of debt managers against the risk plan. Operational Risks Operational risks usually arise in the areas that provide support and regular services to the DMO. SAIs would recognise the following operations risks when they examine the organisational structure of the public debt management unit. Lack of Segregation of Functions An independent administrative office must independently process public debt transactions, confirmed, valued, and reviewed, and monitored 6. Inadequate Staff Expertise Supervisors must have the proper expertise to avoid becoming a rubber stamp to the debt traders. Support staff is usually the first line of defence to uncover errors and irregularities that may occur in processing debt transactions. Product risk New debt contracts can be too complex or poorly understood. This could lead to the inability of the support area to process, value, and control new loans. CBDMS and Technology Risks These risks exist when staffs fail to stay up to date in technological developments associated with new information systems or adopt computerised information systems without a proper regular training for staffs to keep abreast with latest technical developments. This will be dealt with more in detail in section Procedural Risks These risks exist when the debt management functions do not have written procedures, the work flow is not structured in a predictable and well-designed manner or there is a high rotation of personnel, with proper training policies maintained. These written procedures become more important the more complex PDM becomes. Disaster Recovery Risks These risks exist when the DMO has not planned for alternative sites, computer resources, communications, resources, trading facilities, and other support services in the case of a disaster. This will be dealt with more in detail in Section Documentation Risks 6 This was explained in Module 2, Section

15 These risks exist when debt transactions do not have well-designed agreements that are legally authorised, properly executed and supported by appropriate confirmation in a timely manner. The back office must maintain master agreements and supporting documentation of debt contracts, debt issues, disbursements and debt service. The back office should have a scan service for all these relevant documents in order to have a back up copy in case of fire, flood or other catastrophe. The scanned files are then stocked on electronic support and follow other electronic files security measures. Valuation Risks These risks exist when the support staff cannot perform, at least on a yearly basis, a conciliation of figures with creditors, external and domestic, as well as with domestic beneficiaries of on-lent loans, direct loans and guarantees Control Activities and Procedures Control activities and procedures are policies and procedures that help ensure that the government s directives are carried out and actions are taken to achieve the government s debt objectives. Establishing an effective link between debt objectives and control activities is a critical component of internal controls. The objectives of control procedures are top achieve the sovereign debt objectives that include: Maintaining a Trade-off between Cost and Risk Assuming liquidity can be achieved, a major objective is to find a balance between cost and risk, taking into account the risks associated with lowest cost. Because interest rates generally are higher for bonds with longer yields to maturity, lowest cost can generally be obtained by issuing instruments with shorter terms to maturity. But with that comes increased risk. The shorter the duration of a debt portfolio, the more susceptible it is to fluctuations in interest rates 7. Developing Effective Domestic Capital Markets Developing domestic capital markets allow the government to issue debt in domestic currency, eliminating exchange rate risk. However, the government should ensuring that trading rules are fair and transparent, which is fundamental to encouraging both domestic issuers private and public and investors domestic and external to use this market 8. 7 See Module 3, Part 1 and Section See Module 1, Section

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