Tradition of state auditing in Poland

 

Poland in the 16th - 18th centuries

Already in the 16th century, in Poland there were two officials responsible for control over spending: one who controlled the spending of royal funds and the other - to monitor the spending of state money. They cooperated with tax collectors nominated by the Parliament. In 1591, the Treasury Tribunal (Polish: Trybunał Skarbowy) was established to supervise public funds, which enhanced parliamentary control over finance. In the 18th century, the Treasury Tribunal was replaced with two treasury committees - one for the Polish Kingdom and the other for the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (the two states together constituted the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth). The two committees were subordinate to the lower chamber of the Parliament and reported on public accounts. In 1775, the Permanent Council (Polish: Rada Nieustająca), which was a prototype of a modern government, was established. It had the Treasury Department to manage the state finance, which remained, however, under control of the Parliament. In this way, the government directly managed finance, yet the Parliament kept the legislative and controlling power, and this model has been evolving since then. In 1791, the Treasury Commission of the Commonwealth was established, yet soon, in 1795, independent Poland stopped to exist after the neighbouring states divided up its territory among themselves. Then, the country disappeared from the map of Europe for over a hundred years. Consequently, it marked the end of all Polish independent public institutions. 

 

Chief Office of Accounts of the Duchy of Warsaw

The Chief Office of Accounts (Polish: Główna Izba Obrachunkowa) came into existence after the Duchy of Warsaw was established by Napoleon in 1807. The Office was responsible for auditing the accounts of the state and local-governments. Its first head was Franciszek Ksawery Zboiński.

 

Office of Accounts of the Kingdom of Poland

The Kingdom of Poland (also referred to as the Congress Poland) was created by the Congress in Vienna in 1815. It was ruled by the Russian tsar who, by the decrees of 1816 and 1821, established the Office of Accounts (Polish: Izba Obrachunkowa). Its main responsibility was to audit all public accounts and it was also authorised to voice comments on the draft budget. Simultaneously, amendments to the budget introduced by the ruler had to be agreed on with the Office of Accounts. The institution stopped operating in 1867 when the Kingdom of Poland completely lost independence after the January Uprising, which was the Polish nation’s unsuccessful effort to regain independence lost in 1795.  Consequently, the Polish system of state auditing was absorbed by the Russian institutional structures.

 

Supreme Office of State Audit

Poland finally won back independence in 1918 after the First World War. In February 1919, Head of State Józef Piłsudski signed a decree on the Supreme Office of State Audit (Najwyższa Izba Kontroli Państwowej). It was an independent body, subordinate directly to the Head of State, and its responsibility was to audit state revenues, expenditures and public assets management. It also monitored the performance of institutions and the management of funds and self-governmental entities and carried out state budget execution audits. Therefore, the comprehensive control over public finance was ensured.

 

Supreme Audit Office in the Second Republic of Poland (1918-1939)

The constitution adopted in March 1921 provided that the Supreme Audit Office (Polish: Najwyższa Izba Kontroli, abbr. NIK), based on the principle of collegial responsibility, was authorised to audit the whole state administration as regards its finance and accounts. Every year, the NIK was obliged to submit its opinion on the vote of approval for the government to the lower chamber of the Parliament (Polish: Sejm). The President of the NIK was responsible directly to the Sejm for the performance of the NIK and for its employees. On 3 June 1921, the Act on State Auditing was adopted which was in effect until the end of the Second Republic of Poland in 1939. It provided that the NIK was an independent body cooperating with the Parliament.

 

Supreme Audit Office in the People’s Republic of Poland 1945-1989 (PRL)

After the Second World War that ended in 1945, the top power in the country was the State National Council (Polish: Krajowa Rada Narodowa, abbr. KRN) which established the Audit Bureau (Biuro Kontroli) that was actually managed by the Presidium of the KRN. In this way, state auditing was supposed to be officially independent of the administration. In 1949, the Parliament appointed the Supreme Audit Office (Najwyższa Izba Kontroli, abbr. NIK). The act on the NIK was also adopted which provided that the President of the NIK was appointed by the Sejm and responsible to it. The act also provided that the NIK was composed of nine departments, three offices and regional branches. The NIK President was a member of the State Council. This relative independence of state auditing ended in 1952 when the NIK was replaced with the Ministry of State Audit. In this way, the principle of the independence of the NIK of the government was violated: the NIK, which was a supreme audit institution, operated as one of ministries and constituted part of the government, the activity of which it was supposed to monitor. As a result of the changes in the Polish internal policy that took place after mid-1956, the NIK was restored in 1957 and made subordinate to the Sejm anew. The Sejm also nominated and dismissed the President of the NIK. In 1976, the Act on the NIK was amended and the NIK was again transformed into a governmental body, supervised by the Prime Minister, although its name remained unchanged. Finally, the independence of the Supreme Audit Office was restored in 1980 and state auditing was again in the hands of the Sejm. In this way, the controlling function of the Sejm was enhanced.

 

Supreme Audit Office in Poland after 1989

The year 1989 finally put an end to the communist regime and the People’s Republic of Poland became the Republic of Poland again. Although its independence was in various ways limited in the communist times, the NIK survived as a separate organisational structure. Thus, democratic Poland had an institution that was ready to immediately start its audit activity. However, new social and political conditions after 1989 made it necessary to develop a new act on the Supreme Audit Office. It was finally adopted by the Sejm on 23 December 1994 and substantially modernised state auditing in Poland.

Article informations

Date of creation:
28 May 2010 15:53
Date of publication:
28 May 2010 15:53
Published by:
Andrzej Gaładyk
Date of last change:
09 March 2011 14:26
Last modified by:
Andrzej Gaładyk

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