Three blind eyes of the Swiss Federal Audit Office

Auditoren sollen in der Schweiz überall die Wirtschaftlichkeit bei öffentlichen Aufgaben untersuchen dürfen
There are areas in Switzerland where financial control fails. (Image: M. Hassan / pixabay)

The Swiss Federal Audit Office SFAO should turn over every stone. But in three places the financial auditors are not allowed to look at all.

The reports of the Swiss Federal Audit Office (SFAO), the top auditors of the federal administration, parliament and subsidy recipients, are eagerly awaited every time.

What will the auditors of Switzerland’s highest financial supervisory body find this time around, for example – when it comes to the acquisition of new fighter jets or the Confederation’s corona measures?

Help for the future also regularly reports on shortcomings in the administration that the SFAO has found. It is not so much finger-pointing as criticism, which is intended to bring about change and thus save taxpayers’ money.

But a little known fact is that there are three institutions in Switzerland where the controllers are not allowed to act at all.

They are, so to speak, the blind spots or blind eyes of the auditors. This is likely to cause astonishment, because this is precisely where many of Switzerland’s weak points are actually likely to lie.

Checks necessary

In fact, the Financial Control Act explicitly excludes two public-sector bodies from the SFAO’s scope of supervision. These are the Swiss Accident Insurance Fund (Suva) and the Swiss National Bank (SNB).

But here in particular, it would be appropriate to carry out checks to see whether everything is being done economically.

Suva, with its annual premium income of more than 4.3 billion Swiss francs and its balance sheet total of over 64 billion Swiss francs, is a juggernaut in an insurance shell – and in many cases a monopoly at that.

Comparable insurance policies abroad cost a fraction of what the Swiss have to pay for their accident protection.

Politicians check politicians

In addition, 40 people sit on the Suva Council supervisory body, and so the public is entitled to question whether all these posts are necessary and whether the state institution is economically viable.

There was once a proposal by the center president, Gerhard Pfister, to put Suva under the wing of the SFAO. But the Council of States rejected the proposal on the flimsy grounds of ‘duplication and additional costs’ without added value.

Military insurance is in

Even the AHV-IV with Compenswiss, Publica, Swissmedic, the ETH and Finma are subject to the Swiss Federal Audit Office. So why not Suva as well?

There is no logical reason, and military insurance, which is part of Suva, is also subject to scrutiny by the SFAO.

Monetary policy left out

According to the law, the SFAO auditors also have no business at the Swiss National Bank (SNB). But in the eyes of many observers, this is a misconstruction, because here, too, the question should be answered as to whether the processes are in order and whether the central bank is carefully managing its resources.

After all, the SFAO would hardly interfere with monetary policy in terms of content. Despite any financial audits, the independence of the SNB would be guaranteed.

SNB prints money recently reported that material expenses at the SNB have increased by ten percent. Who is looking to see if this is at all in order?

Who is looking to see if the SNB’s chosen path of weakening or strengthening the Swiss franc is being implemented in the best possible way? And who looks to see if all the gold bars the SNB lists in its reports are actually in the central bank’s vaults? finds not one.

In other countries, such as Germany, the financial auditors are also allowed to take action at the central bank and issue reprimands, as the German Court of Auditors recently criticized the Deutsche Bundesbank.

In Austria, too, the independent auditors are allowed to recount the gold bars at the National Bank.

State television on a long leash

And there is a third black spot for the SFAO, as research by revealed. That is the entire SRG. There, too, the financial controllers have no business. Switzerland handles the use of the state’s compulsory fees virtually outside of public control.

But this is precisely where the SFAO should be able to take action, because the waste of money is obvious. The management around SRG Director General Gilles Marchand announced that it wanted to save 50 million Swiss francs. In the following year, however, operating costs increased by 50 million Swiss francs.

Cementing grievances

Who intervened? Exactly, again no one. The supervisory bodies of SRG around the responsible but not independent DETEC are obviously failing completely.

The fear alone that Swiss financial auditors could uncover irregularities at SRG would probably generate a completely different pattern of action on the part of those responsible for SRG.

Independence preserved

Certainly, the SFAO would hardly interfere in the programming at SRF & Co. and thus in the world of media design.

The autonomy of the programs would be guaranteed despite the involvement of the SFAO, as a parliamentary motion also stated, but which was secretly written off on December 16, 2022, because it had not been conclusively dealt with in the Council for over two years.

The SFAO has long since proven that it can also act in sensitive, i.e. independent, areas of Switzerland. Also the audit of courts is a task of the SFAO, and the auditors do not take court rulings and their determination to task.

The judiciary therefore remains independent.

Cautious approach

As the new director of the SFAO, Pascal Stirnimann, announced a few days ago, he is now even taking a ‘cautious look’ at party financing, as requested by the Federal Council. This is possible even in a direct democracy with all the independent parties.

So where there is a will, there would also be a way for an SRG audit.

With Suva, SNB and SRG, those are three black spots in Switzerland where the SFAO’s financial auditors are not allowed to act. There is arguably no reason for this.


Three blind eyes of the Swiss Federal Audit Office

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