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School audits: Responsibilities of the board of trustees, and the appointed auditor

Appointed auditors, on behalf of the Auditor-General, audit all schools in New Zealand. The appointed auditor writes to the school’s Board of Trustees, setting out the terms of engagement for the audit. Each party has responsibilities – these pages set out those responsibilities in greater detail than we provide in the audit engagement letter.

The Board has specific responsibilities for preparing the financial statements and for financial management and accountability matters. The Office of the Auditor-General expects members of the Board to be familiar with those responsibilities and, where necessary, have obtained advice about them.

Board of Trustees' general responsibilities

The Board's responsibilities extend to all resources, activities, and entities under its control. We expect that the Board will ensure, for the resources, activities, and entities under its control, that:

  • it operates effectively and efficiently;
  • it complies with laws, regulations, and contractual requirements;
  • waste is minimised; and
  • it conducts its business with probity - that is, the Board meets Parliament's and the public's expectations of appropriate standards of behaviour in the public sector.

The Board should have documented policies and procedures to support its general responsibilities. It should also regularly monitor performance against its objectives.

See also: The board of trustees' specific responsibilities

Appointed auditor's general responsibilities

Independence requirement for appointed auditors

It is essential that appointed auditors remain both economically and attitudinally independent of the Board. This involves being, and appearing to be, free of any interest that might be regarded - whatever its actual effect - as being incompatible with integrity, objectivity, and independence.

To protect the independence of appointed auditors, specific limitations are placed on them in accepting engagements with the Board other than the annual audit. They may accept certain types of other engagements, subject to the requirements of the Auditing Standards. Any such other engagements must be the subject of a separate written arrangement between the Board and the appointed auditor.

Issues of performance, authority, waste, and probity

Appointed auditors are required to be alert for issues of:

  • performance, in particular whether the public entity carried out its activities in an efficient and effective manner;
  • authority, in particular whether the public entity carried out its activities, used its resources, and fulfilled its accountability requirements in accordance with the authority granted by Parliament and all other relevant directions;
  • waste, in particular whether the public entity obtained and applied its resources in an economical manner and whether any public money is being wasted; and
  • probity, in particular whether the public entity met Parliament's and the public's expectations of appropriate standards of behaviour in the public sector.

See also: The appointed auditor's specific responsibilities

Other matters

Deadlines for statutory reporting

To meet the statutory reporting deadlines, appointed auditors depend on receiving the Board's financial statements that comply with legislation - and are ready for audit - within 90 days of the balance date (that is, by 31 March) at the latest. "Ready for audit" means that the financial statements comply with generally accepted accounting practice and are supported by proper accounting records and complete evidential documentation.

Appointed auditors will ensure that the annual audit is completed by 31 May following the balance date or, if that is not practicable because of the non-receipt or condition of the financial statements, or for some other reason beyond their control, as soon as possible after that.

Workpapers

The workpapers that appointed auditors produce in carrying out the audit are the property of the Auditor-General. Workpapers are confidential to the Auditor-General and subject to the disclosure provisions in section 30 of the Public Audit Act 2001.

Health and safety

The Auditor-General and the audit firms take seriously their responsibility to provide a safe working environment for audit staff. You are, therefore, asked to clearly inform audit staff visiting your premises what you require of them for health and safety, particularly safety equipment, emergency evacuations, and reporting accidents and hazards.

Audit staff have been made aware of their responsibilities to report any hazards, accidents, or unsafe action to both your organisation's and their firm's health and safety representatives.

Fees

The standard letter of engagement and this document do not cover the fees that will be charged for carrying out the audit. Fees are the subject of separate correspondence and agreement between the Board and the appointed auditor.

Liaison

If you have any questions about the annual audit generally, or have any concerns about the quality of service you are receiving, you should contact the appointed auditor as soon as possible. If, after contact, you still have concerns, you should contact the Director - Auditor Appointments at the Office of the Auditor-General on (04) 917 1500.

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The value of auditing
We commissioned some work to look into the value of auditing in New Zealand's public sector. The four reports produced as a result of that work are available on Victoria University of Wellington's website.