France's National Audit Office ("Cour des Comptes"): 200 years and counting!
Posted by Michel Lazare and Dominique Bouley
On November 5, 2007, the French National Audit Office (La Cour des Comptes) celebrates its 200th anniversary with a re-enactment of its 1807 inaugural session. The current Cour des Comptes was created by Emperor Napoleon I (in a September 16, 1807 law).
Its historical roots are even much older: a royal ordinance in 1256 prescribed that mayors in Normandy had to report their financial accounts to a royal commission once a year; and an institution called chambre des comptes was created in 1303.
The 1807 law made of the Cour des Comptes an instrument of the imperial power. The Cour was reporting directly to the Emperor and its key mission was to perform financial audits to enforce compliance to accounting rules.
Needless to say that the Cour has changed a lot since 1807. But its has kept its rank as one of the most prestigious institutions of the State. Articles following the publication of its annual report, which contains a wealth of information about the use--and more often than not misuse-- of public funds regularly make the front page of newspapers and the headlines of radio and TV news bulletins. Some thematic reports are also published.
The role and missions of the Cour have been considerably enlarged since 1807, and particularly since the post-World War II period. Nowadays, the Cour is independent from both the legislative and the executive branches.
It controls the management of all public agencies as well as all the public or semi-public entities and some private entities benefiting from public transfers. It passes a judgment on the financial accounts of all the public accounts and has judicial powers to sanction them. It also advises both the parliament and the government on issues related to the implementation of budget and social security laws.
In parallel with a major fiscal decentralization reform, the Chambres Régionale des Comptes were established in 1982 on the model of the national Cour des Comptes.
In application of the 2001 Organic Budget Law ("LOLF"), the Cour has for the first time in 2007 certified the 2006 accounts. This first certification ever included some qualifications. Consistent with the Article 58-3 of the 2001 LOLF the Cour published in June 2007 a report on the public finances' current situation and outlook.
The Cour plays an active international role. It chairs or participates in a number of audit committees of international institutions: UNESCO, WTO, Interpol, etc...In particular, it chairs the UN audit committee for the period 2007-08. It is an active member of INTOSAI and of its regional entity, EUROSAI. It has traditionally maintained close relations with other Cours des Comptes in French-speaking countries.
Monsieur le Premier, bon anniversaire à la Cour!
Mr. Philippe Seguin, Premier Président de la Cour des Comptes ( picture by Olivier Sourd)