Responding to COVID-19: insight, support and guidance
In an age characterised by the permeability of borders, boosting the capacity of developing nations to effectively manage public finances for the benefit of the most vulnerable is more crucial than ever. Creating more reliable financial management systems will both help prevent the spread of corruption and improve public services in fragile states. This has been a longstanding priority for CIPFA.
We’ve long been working towards strengthening public financial management around the globe by offering training and insight into best practice. In our years of implementing this, we have learned many lessons that we can take with us into our future endeavours bolstering vital public sector organisations internationally.
Our recent project in Zimbabwe is no exception. Over the past decade, Zimbabwe has suffered an economic crisis as a result of environmental degradation such as cyclones and drought, as well as widespread corruption. The deteriorating economy has taken its toll on the provision of public services, resulting in lack of quality and availability for those who need them throughout the country.
While there have been improvements in recent years, Zimbabwe still faces extreme poverty. Over the last year, weather disasters have resulted in further environmental degradation and food shortages. Human rights violations in the country are widely reported. You may wonder what the role of accounting could be in the face of such challenges. However, training in public financial management can support governments to reduce political and economic instability. This may help establish a safety net when unexpected tragedy occurs.
While accomplishing this is no easy feat, training public finance professionals in Zimbabwe will help ensure that public services are available to those who need them. It’s in the public interest to increase the efficacy of the country’s public financial institutions through support from international stakeholder organisations.
In partnership with the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Zimbabwe and their Public Accounts and Auditors Board, the project commenced in 2016 with the goal of improving transparency, accountability and adoption of an accrual-based public financial reporting framework specific to Zimbabwe.
The objectives were to be met by strengthening existing financial institutions within the Government of Zimbabwe and delivering knowledge to local professionals while developing the country’s public sector accountancy capacity.
Funding for the project came from a (just under) £5 million grant from the UK Department for International Development to support professional accountancy organisation capacity building in ten developing countries over seven years. Projects making use of this grant have also taken place in Ghana, Rwanda and Uganda with good results.
The success of our work in Zimbabwe was twofold, resulting in the adoption of an accrual-based public financial framework in 2017, and the formation of a Public Sector Advisory Group to provide ongoing support. Migration to the new framework is currently expected to take place between now and 2023. Analyses of Zimbabwe’s public sector accountancy institutions are continuing to take place to identify further needs, gaps and to propose solutions.
This wasn’t without its challenges. The implementation of this type of public financial reporting framework is resource-intensive, requiring a substantial long-term time commitment, strong stakeholder support as well as sufficient and sustained investment.
Looking to the future there are further plans in place, including initiatives to upskill 3,000 civil servants currently in finance positions around Zimbabwe, enhance the attractiveness of careers in public sector accountancy, and further training in the Office of the Accountant General and the Office of the Auditor General.
At CIPFA, we want to extend our experience providing high-quality public finance and accountancy training and development around the globe. With each successful project, we strive towards the goal of increasing transparency in public finance while improving the lives of world’s population.
This article first appeared in Public Finance Focus.