Auditing and blame games: a field study of the purification of blame avoidance in the Danish parliamentary system
Christensen, M & Skaerbaek, P 2012, 'Auditing and blame games: a field study of the purification of blame avoidance in the Danish parliamentary system',in I Lapsley (ed.), 7th International Conference on Accounting, Auditing & Management in Public Sector Reforms, Milan, Italy, 4-6 September, European Institute for Advanced Studies in Managment, Brussels, Belgium.
Auditing and auditors have for long been involved with processes of blame allocation in terms of special audit cases and performance auditing. Despite this fact very few studies (with the exception for example of Radcliffe, 1997) have provided detailed empirical accounts on how auditing participate in blame allocation. This study sets out to study one case of blame allocation in terms of describing and characterizing the origins of failure and accidents leading to the need for blame allocation, the institutional entities and arrangements that participate in the blame game, and how these entities, including the supreme audit institution, are mobilized in the processes of blame allocation. The case is taken from the Danish National Police where a centralized accounting and budgetary function was reformed so as to facilitate a process of amalgamating 74 police districts into 12 larger districts. This decentralized management accounting and control reform misfired into a major public scandal and blame game that resulted in the dismissal of senior Police managers. Within that blaming, the National Audit Office of Denmark acted to purify the government and press choices to pinpoint a single actor as being responsible for the scandal. Our study extends Hood’s (2002 and 2007) research on blame and blame avoidance strategies by showing how a blame-frame (i.e. the various legal and non-legal frameworks that are related to blame allocation) is mobilized to evaluate and allocate blame. Further, it is noted that an audit institution (with its legal frameworks) became part of a scapegoating strategy to achieve blame avoidance. In this way the audit office, in its role of an expert, provided purity to blame avoidance and allocation, thus leading to the result that Parliament, the Minister of Justice, consultants, the Ministry of Finance, and others avoided being blamed – despite those actors being more or less involved with the failure or accident. The contribution of the paper is that it shows the mechanisms causing scapegoating of particular people and the role of auditors as experts in such mechanisms. It finally shows how a scapegoating process ‘re-boots’ a reform by erasing the reform’s problems and in so doing it protects not only the involved actors but also the economic and accounting ideals and rationalities drawn upon in the reform efforts. This can be seen as a means of the reform process maintaining, for the time-being, some of its relevance – even in controversial and hot situations.