What explains the effectiveness of autonomous audit agencies (AAAs) in emerging economies? How relevant are they for improving fiscal governance and curbing corruption? AAAs are autonomous state agencies tasked with overseeing government finances. They are a critical component of the system of checks and balances in financial governance. However, in many developing countries, they often fail to fulfill their prescribed roles. This paper models and measures the effectiveness of AAAs in Latin America, developing an index to evaluate their performance, and assesses their reform over time. It examines the cases of Argentina, Brazil and Chile, which illustrate the three models of AAA and three distinct trajectories of reform (or lack thereof). We find that, while the choice of institutional arrangements for government auditing matters, political economy factors condition the effectiveness of AAAs and shape their reform. Moreover, dysfunctions in government auditing are systemic, rather than agency specific. What matters most is the quality of the agencies’ insertion in the system of financial oversight, in particular their relations with the legislatures. Reforming AAAs must therefore consider the country’s trajectory of institutional change, the functioning of the system of fiscal control, and the culture of public administration. These research findings have important policy implications on the role of political institutions on financial governance.
Keywords: Government auditing, corruption, political economy, fiscal institutions, financial governance, public budgeting, fiscal control, legislative oversight, Latin America, Argentina, Brazil, Chile.
JEL codes: H11, H61, O54, P16