Client story

For the e-Governance Academy, an internal auditor is seen as a good colleague

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What do Mauritania, Kosovo, Moldova, Iraq, Kenya and Kyrgyzstan have in common? Answer: the e-Governance Academy has provided advisory services to them and tens of other countries in transition, helping local government institutions and NGOs efficiently develop electronic public services and make democratic processes better.

Each year, the eGA’s large-scale projects that are supported by various financing sources around the world mean it has to comply with legal acts on the organization’s activity as well as follow internal procedures both in project management and financial accounting.

Although eGA is not bound by Estonian laws to establish an internal audit function, the organization nevertheless considers it essential, since a professional internal auditor can give assurance that the organization’s internal control system works efficiently and supports achieving the organization’s goals. 

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Photo: eGA team in 2022. Photographer: Egert Kamenik

Since 2020, Grant Thornton Baltic led by internal auditor Kai Paalberg have been in charge of internal audits at eGA. The academy held a tender to find the internal auditor, and as an important criterion, it looked not only at quality but sought an internationally recognized auditing company or consultancy. “Grant Thornton’s name is known outside of Estonia and we don’t have to explain to our partners what company it is,” says eGA board member and director of finance and administration Aile Kullerkupp.

What sort of value does the internal auditor provide?

Experience to date has shown that selecting Grant Thornton Baltic from among several strong service providers was the right decision. Kullerkupp: “We realized quickly that we lucked out as Kai Paalberg has generated much value added for eGA through her work. An internal auditor for us was always a good colleague whose professional eye looks at all the issues we want additional assurance on. We have also been able to test various procedures and guidelines with Kai’s help – it’s good if someone from outside the organization looks things over. We are very immersed in our topics and thus we can sometimes miss recording something that seems self-evident to us.”

eGA’s legal and compliance department head Britt Marie Jürman says she shares the view of the internal auditor being an additional independent pair of eyes with whom various solutions can be discussed for assurance that the company is on the right path. Jürman also says there is good trust-based bond with Paalberg. “No doubt there are organizations where an internal auditor can make the employees nervous. Not here, because we see the internal auditor as a colleague and professional, independent partner. For example, when we discuss various topics in our team, often colleagues recommend asking Kai for advice and consultation.” Kullerkupp adds: “Kai is a very multifaceted internal auditor whose work is big help when planning eGA activity.”

Kullerkupp notes that important value added also comes from the fact that Grant Thornton Baltic internal auditors have a wealth of experience with different organizations, including government departments, and have seen various kinds of practices and solutions. They have also audited projects supported from EU structural funds.

Grant Thornton opened its doors

In talking about working with the internal audit, Kullerkupp also mentions the example of harmonizing financial accounting principles for eGA projects. “We had a need to harmonize practice pertaining to methods for recognizing expenses related to different projects. We first developed the general principles of the methodology and then asked the internal auditor to evaluate the appropriateness and conformity to various financing sources’ requirements and best practices. It was particularly great that Grant Thornton Baltic literally opened the doors to us during that prophecy – Kai introduced us to her accounting department staff who quickly got up to speed with our affairs and provided very professional advice. They were very forthright and that makes Grant Thornton Baltic unique – other departments also contribute to a client's account if necessary,” says Kullerkupp.

Britt Marie Jürman recalls a case where the eGA supervisory board sent the auditor a task regarding compliance, which wasn’t a major job but did require a fast turnover. Ordinary internal audit work in one sense but what was exceptional was that it wasn’t agreed on in the annual plan. “Although Kai was very busy then, she didn’t say she would get to it several months from now but got started straight away and finished it on time. Responsiveness and taking into account client wishes is a big asset for us,” says Jürman.

To characterize eGA’s work with Kai Paalberg, Kullerkupp says it is professional, collegial and understanding. “By ‘understanding’ I mean Kai realizes what our organization is all about and its peculiarities and we are on the same page.” Britt Marie Jürman also brings out another facet. “Besides professionalism, Kai is sincerely interested how the client is faring. Kai wants to create value for clients and be there for them,” says Kullerkupp. If only there were more Kais among internal auditors!”

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Kai Paalberg, Grant Thornton Baltic's Head of Business Risk Services and Senior Internal Auditor

Internal audits at E-Governance Academy (eGA)

eGA is not required by Estonian law to have an internal audit function but the foundation decided to establish such a line. eGA has completed a Pillar Assessment by the European Commission and has been declared a reliable partner for the Commission, to whom large-scale projects are entrusted. The existence of an independent internal auditor at eGA is thus important from the EC’s perspective as well.

Grant Thornton Baltic auditors in eGA: monitoring off implementation of recommendations from previous internal audit work, advice on the topic of risk management, various advisory and assurance jobs in the field of project management and financial accounting and an urgent compliance task assigned by the supervisory board.

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