The State Audit Office of Latvia explored during an audit whether all prerequisites were created in Latvia to move towards the achievement of the UN sustainable development goals (SDGs) systematically at the state and municipal levels. Unfortunately, such confidence has not been achieved. “Although Latvia is committed to implementing the SDGs by approving them 7 years ago, one needs significant improvements both at the national and municipal levels to achieve the goals actually. In other words, measures must be determined, managed and coordinated more actively to integrate the SDGs into Latvia’s development and budget planning systems, popularize these goals and involve stakeholders, as well as monitor their implementation progress,” explained Edgars Korčagins, Council Member of the State Audit Office of Latvia.
- Latvia also undertook to move towards UN SDGs 7 years ago. However, until now, not enough has been done either at the national or municipal level to have all the prerequisites for a full-fledged development.
- In general, working with the SDGs is carried out without process leadership, a specific plan, tasks and division of responsibilities in Latvia. As a result, public awareness of the goals and their significance remains low.
- To achieve the SDGs, local and regional governments play an important role because up to 65% of the 169 SDG sub-goals are related to the competence of local and regional governments, and it is local and regional governments that will be the decisive stage in achieving the goals.
- Without changing anything, Latvia will have achieved only 30 or 18% of SDG sub-goals by 2030 according to the calculation of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
- In Latvia, the lack of progress and the negative trends in the SDG indicators show that top political management should begin urgently by solving challenges at a high inter-ministerial level by joint efforts in order to achieve the SDGs.
Mr Korčagins also indicated, “When the country’s top officials sign global and comprehensive agreements, the public hopes that the direction of the country’s development will be better and more sustainable, its development potential and the country’s competitiveness will increase. In their turn, when executive institutions leave the implementation of these agreements on their own accord, a gap between the political power and the population increases, and the state’s development capabilities are weakened. This directly affects trust in the government and state executive institutions, as hopes for a better life are not fulfilled.”
The 2015 UN Resolution “Transforming Our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” or the Agenda 2030 sets out 17 SDGs. The Agenda 2030 is not legally binding, but the document is politically significant and is planned to be used in making decisions at the national, regional, and international levels until 2030. The SDGs are a tool that countries can use to assess their development on a global scale, to identify their weaknesses and improve them in the long term, balancing various development needs, promoting a high standard of living, etc. Countries with high progress on the SDGs (e.g., Finland, Denmark, Germany) also rank high in various surveys of quality of life and population satisfaction. Estonia and Lithuania are also ahead of Latvia in these indicators.
According to the auditors of the State Audit Office, Latvia’s progress towards the SDGs has an untapped potential to progress in the field of sustainability and improve society’s well-being, as well as international reputation and competitiveness. Unlike the countries of Western Europe and Nordic countries where work with the SDGs is given wide attention, the actions conducted in Latvia have been fragmented so far. Latvia’s international indicators reflect that as well. For instance, the OECD has calculated that Latvia will have achieved 30 or 18% of the SDG sub-goals by 2030, namely, according to the opinion of OECD, Latvia has several problem areas in which the achievement of SDG indicators is particularly far away, including the availability and costs of healthcare, the spread of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, alcohol consumption, one of the highest levels of poverty among OECD countries (in addition, this indicator has worsened over the last ten years).
The goals set in the Agenda 2030 affect every citizen, industry, and local and regional government, but in Latvia there are no comprehensive measures to explain and popularize these goals in the society, to integrate them into Latvia’s development and budget planning systems, as well as to monitor the progress of SDG implementation. The main responsibility for monitoring and evaluating the progress of achieving the SDGs lies with national governments. Each country must decide how to integrate relevant SDG sub-goals into national planning processes, policies, and strategies, in close cooperation with local and regional governments, international organizations, academic circles, volunteer groups, and other stakeholders. In Latvia, the implementation of SDGs involves the Cross-Sectoral Coordination Centre (CSCC), which is not even tasked with the management of SDG implementation in laws and regulations directly, the Central Statistical Office (CSO), and ministries, but local and regional governments, non-governmental organizations, and other stakeholders are not involved in the implementation of the goals sufficiently.
Untapped potential for public engagement. In Western Europe and Nordic countries, a lot of attention has been paid to work with the SDGs by implementing measures for public involvement to popularize the SDGs and discuss the work to be done. In Latvia, there is no such regular and systematic approach with the aim of creating a common understanding of the SDGs, their significance, and practical implementation in the public and private sectors and society as a whole, although it is the public understanding of the significance and purpose of the SDGs in particular that is a prerequisite for changing attitudes and actions.
Following UN recommendations, the first step in working with the SDGs is to assess their link with the goals included in Latvia’s development planning documents. Unfortunately, this assessment was not completed in Latvia; information is missing or incomplete in many places. The audit concluded that all sub-goals applicable to Latvia were not included in Latvia’s development planning documents. For example, the sub-goal related to reducing the amount of food waste has not been integrated into the Latvia’s planning system, and the State Audit Office has found significant problems in the field of biological waste management during its audits. As a result, neither the policy makers and implementers, nor the public have access to full-value information about which SDG sub-goals are linked to Latvia’s development goals, with respect to which goals work is still ahead; also, the goals to be achieved as a priority for Latvia have not been determined.
Concerns that national goals and state funds live their own lives. E.Korčagins: “In Latvia, both state and municipal budgets are drawn up by dividing them into programs and sub-programs, defining achievable indicators, but their connection with development planning documents is weak, and the connection with the SDGs is generally undetectable. E.Korčagins stated, “State Audit Office of Latvia points to insufficient linking of budget and development planning documents systematically during its audits. For instance, it was concluded that the budget did not serve as a tool for the implementation of state policy during the audit on the effectiveness of the budget management system in 2017, in which the budget planning process was analysed in detail, i.e., national goals and state funds live their own lives. This audit concludes that it is impossible to determine to what extent state and municipal budget funds are used to promote specific SDGs without an in-depth analysis of documents, and this does not allow data to be collected at the national level as well.”
Local and regional governments play an important role in achieving the SDGs. In Latvia, at least 53% of municipal functions are related to the SDGs. International practice has recognized that local and regional governments are the level of government that can best link global goals with local communities. According to the UN, up to 65% of the 169 SDG sub-goals are related to the competence of local and regional governments and local self-governments will be the decisive stage for achieving the SDGs. For example, SDG 11 “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable” with 10 sub-goals (slum improvement, road safety, public transport, waste management, environmental accessibility, territorial development planning, etc.) refers to local and regional governments. Unfortunately, contrary to the assessment of international experts and also the State Audit Office, the importance of local and regional governments in the implementation of the SDGs in Latvia has not been adequately assessed and no measures have been taken to strengthen the capacity of local and regional governments in the field of SDGs at the national level.
In its turn, the Administrative and Territorial Reform enabled local and regional governments to take into account international trends in the development of new development planning documents, including the SDGs, however, they did not use it fully, as only four of the eight local and regional governments included in the audit sample acted to integrate the SDGs into planning documents on their own initiative in order to implement them: Bauska Regional Government, Liepāja City Municipality, Riga City Municipality, and Valmiera Regional Government.
For the implementation of the SDGs, regular assessment of the progress of achieving the SDGs and correction of activities according to the conclusions is essential. Yet, there is no regular and systematic monitoring of the progress of the SDGs in Latvia. The State Audit Office of Latvia considers that there are no prerequisites currently to ensure full-fledged monitoring of the progress of achieving goals in Latvia and to inform the public about it. There are also challenges in the availability of data necessary for the evaluation of SDG progress, both at the national and municipal levels, for example, according to the UN assessment, only 57% of SDG progress indicators are available for measurement in Latvia.
Recommendations of the State Audit Office of Latvia #PēcRevīzijas
Following the audit findings and conclusions, the Cross-Sectoral Coordination Centre, the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development, and local and regional governments were given 10 recommendations to create a common understanding in the state administration about the significance of the Agenda 2030 and as to facilitate the fulfillment of the prerequisites for achieving the SDGs.
After the audit, the Cabinet of Ministers was proposed to assess the most suitable model for managing the implementation of the Agenda 2030 and to determine the responsible institution and its exact competence by allocating proportionate resources to coordinate and monitor the implementation of the Agenda 2030, stakeholders, and the results achieved.
About the State Audit Office of Latvia
The State Audit Office of the Republic of Latvia is an independent, collegial supreme audit institution. The purpose of its activity is to find out whether the actions with the financial means and property of a public entity are legal, correct, useful and in line with public interests, as well as to provide recommendations for the elimination of discovered irregularities. The State Audit Office conducts audits in accordance with International Standards of Supreme Audit Institutions of the International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions INTOSAI (ISSAI), whose recognition in Latvia is determined by the Auditor General.
100 years of AUDIT STRENGTH
On 16 August 2023, the State Audit Law will turn 100 years old. With the adoption of this Law, the State Audit Office from a formal de facto institution founded on 2 December 1918 became a de jure independent, collegial supreme audit institution of the Republic of Latvia. The State Audit Office is one of the independent state institutions enshrined in the Satversme (Constitution) of Latvia. The Constitution was signed by Roberts Ivanovs as the secretary of the Constitutional Assembly, who was then confirmed as the Auditor General. He worked as the first Auditor General for 12 years. His signature confirmed the text of our Constitution alongside that of Jānis Čakste.
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