By Salema Hafiz, CIPFA Head of International Relations
In today’s volatile climate, it’s more important than ever to identify the shared challenges facing the public sector globally. Coming together to discuss the key skills and competencies necessary to combat ongoing problems and issues will have a lasting impact on public financial management (PFM) practices internationally and we should grasp the opportunity.
CIPFA recently hosted a virtual roundtable discussion with members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in the Caribbean for this very reason. ICAC comprises senior representatives of professional accountancy organisations (PAOs) from across the Caribbean including Barbados, Bahamas, Eastern Caribbean, Guyana, Jamaica, Suriname and Trinidad & Tobago. Discussion focused on the public sector finance challenges that ICAC members currently face, with the aim of helping progress and support knowledge and professionalism.
ICAC and CIPFA wanted to pinpoint where capacity support is needed in the drive to reform and improve public financial management throughout the Caribbean region.
Each ICAC member country represented at this discussion is at a different stage in the implementation of accrual accounting. While implementation is an overarching key priority and a long-term goal for most of the member countries, there is a strong appreciation of the importance of corporate governance and people development as well.
Building up the right skills across government departments, state-owned enterprises and the wider public sector is a key component in developing a strong PFM system. Legislation across the Caribbean can enable the relative effectiveness of PFM systems and can vary substantially from one country to the next. One such example is the Public Finance Management Act 2019 issued by the government of Barbados. The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Barbados (an ICAC member) aims to help implement the act across the public sector in a meaningful way, to ensure the legislation achieves its objective of strengthening public financial management.
Linking back to organisations’ own professional cultures is also important. Building and maintaining a culture of professionalism in PFM cuts across all levels of an organisation. Getting the right intake of entry-level staff and supporting their development into management, CFO and other leadership roles is vital to building capacity from the ground-up.
This starts with identifying the right competencies. CIPFA’s new public sector competency framework, Key Competencies for Public Sector Finance Professionals, highlights the competencies required to be successful at each level of the profession. The framework is designed to support existing training and appraisal processes and help guide the development of public finance practitioners. It aims to stimulate thinking and planning for individual career pathways and progression, as well as PFM development needs at an organisational level.
CIPFA is clear that strong governance and PFM need to sit at the heart of any government plans that look to develop long-term financial sustainability for public services. Public sector environments across nations are distinct in terms of the political and value driven pressures exerted on them. Finance staff must appreciate this context and ensure the public interest remains at the heart of all their work.
This article first appeared in Public Finance Focus.