Posted by Grégoire Tirot
Created in 1797, the Inspection générale des finances (IGF – General Inspectorate of Finance) is a high level consulting and auditing service that is part of the French Ministry of Finance and Economy. In 1831, during the reign of Louis-Philippe, Baron Louis, Minister of Finance at that time, made the IGF the only body of control of his ministry: "The IGF is the arm and eye of the minister," he wrote. Today the IGF works not only for the Minister of Finance and Economy but for the entire government.
The IGF is considered as one of the three most prestigious organs of the French State (“Grands corps de l’Etat”), along with the Council of State (“Conseil d’Etat” which is the highest administrative jurisdiction in France) and the Court of Auditors (“Court des comptes”). Since the beginning of the Fifth Republic in 1958, one president of the Republic (Valéry Giscard d’Estaing) and four Prime Ministers have come from the IGF.
The IMF and the IGF have a close historical association: Pierre-Paul Schweitzer, managing director of the IMF from 1963 to 1973, was a former member of the IGF, as well as Jacques de la Rosière, managing director of the Fund from 1978 to 1987. Indeed, working in the IGF can lead to senior positions in many international financial and economic organizations: Pascal Lamy, director-general of the WTO from 2005 to 2013 is also a general inspector of finance, as well as Jean-Claude Trichet, president of the European Central Bank from 2003 to 2011.
The IGF carries out mainly three types of mission:
- Verifying and auditing public or private entities which manage public funds: although only representing 6 percent of its total workload, these assignments are central to the IGF’s work. The General Inspectorate has no judicial role and no mandate to sanction entities or managers. However, its reports - whose findings are presented to ministers or members of their cabinet - lead to the formulation and implementation of action plans, and to the bringing of cases before the public prosecutor, should irregularities or illegal practices be discovered. Teams made up of finance inspectors perform verifications and audits on a regular basis. These assignments take the form of unannounced visits to the organizations that have been targeted. Public accounts, high risk accounting transactions as well as revenue and expenditure management are among the key fields covered. In 2015, for example, the IGF carried out a verification of five institutions in charge of social housing, and an audit of the tax services of the Ministry of Finance and Economy.
- Providing advisory services to the government: performed at the request of the Prime Minister as well as of the Minister of Finance and Economy, but also of other ministers. These missions perform evaluations of the way public bodies operate, and the efficiency and effectiveness of public policies. They represented approximately 75 percent of the IGF’s assignments initiated in 2015. The bulk of these advisory services concern economic, financial and social issues, others deal with issues related to fields such as the digital economy, defense, health, transport, energy, public housing, and industry. For instance, the IGF published a report in 2016 about Digital in Trade Agreements.
- Assisting various public entities, commissions, Members of Parliament, working groups and experts, as well as international organizations. For example, in 2015 and 2016, the IGF carried out missions in the Central African Republic, Senegal, Madagascar, Mozambique and Cameroon on behalf of the IMF and the World Bank. These assignments represented 16 percent of the assignments performed by the IGF in 2015.
The IGF is a powerful organization, but very small in terms of its staffing. At the end of 2015 it comprised:
- "Junior" staff comprising 38 inspectors of finance. More than half of these inspectors were recruited from the highest ranked students of the National Public School of Administration (ENA – 4 or 5 positions a year).
- 33 general inspectors of finance (“senior” staff) who assume several roles: mentoring and advising the young inspectors; providing expertise in particular sectors or policy areas; and representing the Government on commissions, boards and committees where the financial stakes are significant.
The “junior” inspectors of finance generally leave the service after four years to take up positions in ministries, public bodies, public enterprises, or in the private sector.
The IGF sets high value on the strength and quality of the methods used in the field of verification and audit, and its advisory and consulting work. An assignment carried out by the IGF typically lasts between three and six months, and is subject to strict internal peer review.
In 2015, almost half of the IGF’s assignments were carried out in partnership with another auditing service and inspection of the government (mainly the General Social Affairs Inspection (IGAS), the General Public Administration Inspection (IGA), and the General Council of Environment and Sustainable Development (CGEDD). In addition, the IGF has developed a close working relationship with the academic community, which enables it to keep at the cutting edge of research, and to develop new analytical tools and methodologies.
It would be wrong to conclude that the IGF is a typically French administrative “curiosity”. The model of a financial inspectorate has spread to, or has inspired many countries since the 19th century: mostly in Europe (Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Albania) and in Africa (Morocco, Algeria, Central African Republic, Niger, Senegal, Mali, Ivory Coast, Mozambique, Angola, Cape Verde, Sao Tome and Principe, Guinea Bissau), but also in other parts of the world (East Timor for example). This is another story, however, which, as far as we know, has not yet been written!
 Inspector of Finance, Inspection générale des finances, France.
 The 2015 activity report of the IGF is available here (in French) : http://www.igf.finances.gouv.fr/files/live/sites/igf/files/contributed/IGF%20internet/4.RapportsDactivites/IGF_RA_2015-160914_.pdf
 Departamento de Inspeccion Financiera y Tributaria.
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