Supreme Audit Institutions and their Powers to Scrutinize Government Spending: A Comparison of Watchdog Accountability Power in Western Europe

Dr. Anchrit Wille
Prof. Mark Bovens

Supreme Audit Institutions (SAI) play important roles in the governance architecture of democratic states. SAIs audit the legality and the efficiency and the effectiveness of the spending behaviour of many government institutions. The importance of better performance and greater accountability in public financial management systems has rendered crucial the ongoing public scrutiny of the financial position of governments.
This paper presents a framework for assessing the accountability powers of these public spending watchdogs. This watchdog accountability index is an empirical tool to assess the key accountability powers of accountability forums that operate in a democratic constitutional context. Our approach breaks down the concept of watchdog accountability power into three distinct, conceptually coherent dimensions. The aim is to provide a richer evidence base to assess evolving external accountability arrangements and their effectiveness.
We apply the accountability index to assess the strength of the main financial watchdog institutions in the EU. This paper assesses for 28 SAIs in Europe whether they have built a powerful accountability regime. Data were collected by means of a study of secondary sources. The analysis presents a comparative picture of how accountability varies across the European SAIs, and explores the differences in these financial accountability systems.