Partitioned wards in the Covid-19 hospital set up inside the Stark Arena in Belgrade, Serbia. The government has launched a virus relief programme

Rachel Bleetman, research and policy manager for public sector finance policy, ACCA

When the 193 UN member states signed up to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), they agreed to ensure that ‘no one will be left behind’. The principle was clear: to ensure that we achieve progress in human development for all, not just a few.

But when the pandemic hit, our ability to achieve the SDGs took a blow as our attention turned to the immediate demands of the pandemic, and our ability to ensure that ‘no one is left behind’ has become harder to achieve.


Supreme audit institutions play a critical role in helping us understand who was left behind in pandemic responses

Time to take stock

For many countries (albeit with some notable exceptions), the time for emergency relief is largely over. But for supreme audit institutions (SAIs), now is the time to assess these packages to understand the impact they had on this critical principle of ‘leaving no one behind’.

One way to do so is through the use of post-compliance audits that focus on inclusivity – as formulated by the INTOSAI Development Initiative. By conducting these types of audit, SAIs can assess if the compliance frameworks considered the concept of inclusivity, and hold governments accountable if there was a failure to comply with those frameworks.

These audits may rely on different sources of information depending on the local processes that were applied when the financial support packages were implemented.

For example, some countries such as the UK legally require public sector authorities to assess how a particular budget or policy may impact existing inequalities across characteristics such as age, disability, sexual orientation or race. Some Covid-specific emergency frameworks, such as the one used in the Philippines, include language on ‘economic inclusivity’ and explicitly lay out how packages will reach certain groups.

Critical role

By highlighting where frameworks lack inclusivity provisions and in holding governments to account if they failed to comply, SAIs have a critical role to play in helping us understand who was left behind as part of national pandemic responses.

Despite the urgency of the situation, emergency frameworks can still incorporate certain safeguards. For example, UN Women produced guidance early on in the pandemic on conducting rapid gender assessments of Covid-19 programmes and policies to help ensure they account for the gendered consequences of the pandemic.

These audits help shed light on the importance of these frameworks, including at least some safeguards against inequality. Additionally, they will highlight where governments failed to adhere to existing rules on inclusivity to help ensure that when we come out of the worst of the crisis, no one will be left behind.

Pressure on governments

Governments’ challenges during the pandemic have included procuring medical supplies and vaccines at great speed, enforcing social restrictions, ensuring health systems could cope, and delivering socioeconomic packages aimed at saving jobs and livelihoods.

Disbursing these funds at great speed meant bypassing certain processes and safeguards. The interventions were usually designed with speed - not equity - in mind.

Although a relaxation of certain processes is understandable during times of crisis, the situation has exacerbated the many forms of inequality that existed long before the pandemic.

Those already left behind are likely to remain that way.