Public funds hold the potential of a better life for all. The public sector is typically the largest earner, largest employer and largest spender in developing and emerging economies. The magnitude of revenue and expenditure that governments oversee is eye-wateringly large. Public sector organisations should have the most talented and competent professionals to manage these funds. But it has become increasingly apparent that the public sector is lacking in both obtaining and retaining talent.
The accounting profession has serviced the private sector for decades by providing investors with high quality financial reporting and assurance that shareholder wealth is being managed responsibly. In the developing world, a maturing accounting profession has encouraged foreign direct investment.
More recently, accounting professionals have discovered work opportunities in supporting public sector entities. Such work typically includes, for example, year-end updates to fixed asset registers, year-end reconciliations and preparing year-end financial statements. Unfortunately, this ex-post work is usually about helping these entities to comply with the year-end financial reporting requirements, not to thrive throughout the year. It does not change day-to-day practices and it has little impact on service delivery. Some argue that these efforts are simply a redirection of public funds away from service delivery priorities. This is incongruent with the expectation that accountants serve the public interest.
When working with the public sector, do accountants extract value or do they create value?
There is an opportunity for accountants to create value in the full public financial management (PFM) process from planning and budgeting through to reporting and audit. Instead of extracting value through compliance-driven consulting, accounting capacity can and should be integrated into the fabric of PFM and service delivery. Moving away from preparing the numbers to providing deep insight on what the numbers mean. It is about partnerships, skills transfer and sustainability. It is about building capacity of competent accounting professionals who understand the complex and specialised public sector environment.
It is about accounting professionals who harness and unleash the potential of public funds to make a difference in the lives of citizens in the most effective, efficient and economical way.
The African Professionalisation Initiative is working to make this possible in Africa. The Initiative will enable countries to professionalise their PFM capacity through a multi-pronged capacity building approach that develops the talent of public sector incumbents, private sector accountants and aspiring professionals. We believe that this is only possible through local ownership, comprehensive stakeholder collaboration and long-term thinking to grow the pool of talented, competent accountants and auditors who support accountability, transparency and good governance in the African public sector.
At the CIPFA International Conference 2018, I will be providing perspectives from the work of the African Professionalisation Initiative. I will give insights into what governments should think about when seeking to build capacity of accounting professionals who are fit-for-purpose to meet the needs of the public sector. Professionals who unleash the potential of public funds.
Please join me and the rich line-up of speakers in Abu Dhabi, 23-24 September 2018, as we debate these issues together and discover together how accountants can unleash the potential of public funds to deliver a better life for all.