Alongside the Auditor-General's primary function of carrying out annual audits, we have the power to inquire in detail into issues of concern.

This inquiries function is discretionary. We receive many requests for inquiries each year and choose carefully which ones to investigate. 

Inquiries can be large or small, cover a wide range of issues, and take weeks or months to complete. Larger inquiries can involve significant amounts of staff time and other resources, for our office and for the organisation we are investigating.

We carry out inquiries on our own initiative or on request from a member of the public, an employee, a member of Parliament, or another organisation. However, we are not a general complaints agency, and no-one can make the Auditor-General investigate a matter.

The Auditor-General is also an "appropriate authority" under the Protected Disclosures Act 2000. This means that public sector employees who are concerned that there may be serious wrongdoing in their organisation are protected if they disclose information to us under the Act’s procedures. We deal with protected disclosures as part of our general inquiries work.

What we'll look at

We can only look at issues relating to public organisations. We have no role in looking at the activities of private individuals or private organisations.

For example, if a private organisation is receiving funding from a public organisation, we can look at how the public organisation is managing the funding relationship but not at what the private organisation is doing.

Our focus is on the way public organisations use their resources, including financial, governance, management and organisational issues. We do not resolve individual complaints or concerns about the decisions that public organisations make.

We examine each request to decide the most appropriate way to proceed. We identify whether the matters might include:

  • financial impropriety;
  • problems with the organisation’s overall governance or management; or
  • other systemic or significant concerns that may be important for the organisation, the sector it operates in, or the general public.

Other factors we consider include how serious the issues are and whether the issues may be better addressed through other avenues.

The limits of our role

We investigate and report our findings and our views. Our scrutiny and reporting helps hold public organisations to account, and we can refer matters to other agencies for action.

We don't have the power to change what an organisation is doing. For example:

  • We can't intervene in decisions that public organisations are making or the decision-making processes they are following.
  • We can't injunct or stop activities or contracts.
  • We can't make a decision about the legality of actions.
  • We can't order redress or other remedies, or overturn decisions.
  • We can't direct a public organisation to act on our findings or recommendations.

Page last updated: 7 April 2021