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Finance Leadership & Development
Changing the World—The Role of Accountants
by Mario Abela, IFAC | July 2, 2014 | 1
As professional accountants, we typically aspire to drive sound financial management within organizations. We are comfortable dealing with facts and typically leave wider social and political issues to others. There are few of us who would claim we can change the world….but can we? Maybe it’s not as far-fetched as it sounds.
I recently had the privilege of attending the Institute of Chartered Accountants of the Caribbean (ICAC) Annual Conference, which was attended by over 400 delegates from across the region. The conference was hosted in Suriname, a country formerly known as Dutch Guyana with a population of just over 500,000 people (and 35 professional accountants).
Attending the conference was a powerful experience because it reminded me not only of the fellowship we have as a global profession but also of the difference accountants can make in the march toward economic development. Countries need not only physical infrastructure to facilitate economic growth, but also the talent of professional accountants to manage resources and provide financial leadership. Suriname has both. Although many of the professional bodies here are small, they have mighty ambitions and are not afraid to tackle the challenges they face head on.
The Caribbean is made of many small countries and while many of us think of it as one of the most desirable holiday destinations, it is a region with, as one delegate put it, varying degrees of poverty not wealth. Economic growth in many countries is not strong and levels of public debt are high. Governments have not been fast to embrace the benefits of improved financial management through being more accountable and transparent in how they use public funds and in the outcomes of those expenditures. But things are changing.
Professional accountants in the region recognize that there is only so much that can be achieved by talking to one another—we are all convinced of the virtues of good financial management (whether in the private or public sectors). However, many others aren’t. Many accounting bodies in the region have been active in promoting the importance of the adoption of international standards (including International Public Sector Accounting Standards) but policy-makers are not so keen on the idea.
When governments call on professions to provide them with counsel, the economists, lawyers and medical professions are all invited to the table. The accountants typically are not. We are busy balancing the books and staying out of the political limelight. As we discussed at the ICAC conference, it is not clear why that is the case because we have a lot to bring to the table—contributing to discussions about economic growth; managing finances and facilitating access to capital; promoting good financial management in government; and shining a light on the scourge of corruption.
The reality is that we can change the world, or at least play our part to make the world a better place. ICAC aims, as part of its strategy, to act as the voice of professional accountants in communicating with policy-makers. They have set to engage with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), a group of heads of government in the region, to bring the public interest to the table and push transparency and accountability higher up on the agenda. They recognize that it will be a struggle: it’s difficult to influence discussions to which you are not normally invited. It takes courage to take on such a challenge but in professional life, many of us have faced the moment when we have had to challenge others and say, “This is not right, things have to change…”
Robert Ameerali (the Vice-President of Suriname) offered us a challenge in his opening address: What will all you clever people do for us. How will you help us? And, now I turn these questions over to you. Do you think professional accountants can change the world? Please log in to Join the Conversation below.
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July 25, 2014
The profession has recently distilled the learning of most relevance to governments and the way they run things in the joint CIPFA/IFAC publication of a Framework for public sector governance. We can say to the politicians "Here, we can show you how you can be better accountable to the people, and we can show you how to hold accountable those who implement your policies. " That's one answer to the challenge from Mr Ameerali. But a possibly bigger challenge is ours to him: "are you happy to accept the importance of accountability personally and throughout your government?" One possible reason for not inviting accountants to the table may be that the help they can give is likely to include telling you what you do not want to hear.
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