“In summary, it can be said that the federal government is better informed about its relations with Mexico than about the relations between its federal offices and Valais.”
This is what Michel Huissoud writes in the last foreword of the SFAO’s 2021 annual report. After 34 years with the financial regulator, he will retire at the end of August. Pascal Stirnimann will take over his duties at the beginning of September.
Huissoud has repeatedly taken on the authorities in recent years. “We have to work impartially and beware of dogmatic positions,” writes the long-time director. Within the administration, there are likely to be people who disagree with him. And yet last year only 18 of 305 recommendations made by the SFAO were rejected by those audited, according to the annual report published on Friday.
Administration rolls over mountains of data
In 2021, the SFAO presented a study on how the Confederation organizationally controls its relations with the cantons. The conclusion: Switzerland is experiencing difficulties in many areas in consolidating the data recorded in the cantons at the national level. The principle according to which the administration collects data from each person or company only once – the “once-only principle” – is often violated.
According to Huissoud, there are many reasons for this: “The cantonal administrations use different software, the data is not defined the same in all cantons, is of poor quality, incomplete or the federal offices do not receive it.”
Corona management under the magnifying glass
The discussions about the statistics of the Covid-19 cases and the number of patients in the intensive care units confirmed the worrying findings of the SFAO about data availability and quality, as Huissoud continues. Financial Control will therefore carry out further audits in connection with the Corona crisis.
If the SFAO discovers incidents or deficiencies of fundamental or significant financial importance, it must inform the Federal Council immediately in accordance with the Financial Control Act. Two reports of this type were made in 2021, relating to the Polycom safety radio network and the A9 motorway project in Valais – both projects that have been struggling with problems for a long time.
Strained relationship with the Federal Council
Overall, in its annual report, Financial Control found that relations with the Federal Council showed room for improvement. Parliament’s recommendation to the state government in 2014 to meet regularly with the SFAO’s management and find out about the important pending implementation is being neglected. According to Financial Control, the last meeting took place in June 2019.
Overall, Financial Control published 61 audits last year. For comparison: from 2010 to 2014 there were still around a dozen on average. The publications have increased steadily since then.
Lots of whistleblowers
In 2021, the SFAO’s whistleblowing office processed and analyzed 402 reports, compared to 484 in 2020. According to the annual report, there was a sharp increase in reports in connection with the pandemic and the federal government’s support measures in these two years.
According to Financial Control, three out of five reports were helpful and helped to improve administrative operations. In the area of short-time work compensation, there were seven cases of fraud by the end of 2021. 414 cases were still open at the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco).
77 reports were received from employees of the federal government, the rest came from people outside the federal administration, such as suppliers or private individuals. On average, four out of five reports were anonymous. The SFAO communicated with the whistleblowers via an encrypted mail system. (SDA)