The Middle East and North African (MENA) region is at a turning point. It is highly diverse and home to some of the wealthiest and fastest growing economies, largely owing to an abundance of natural resources. However, the region also includes conflict-affected countries, emerging economies and societies with particularly low average incomes.
Despite historic tensions and ongoing conflicts, which can contribute to regional instability, there are positive signs of economic and social development. Recovery and reconstruction efforts are underway in Iraq, while countries including Egypt and Saudi Arabia have undergone major economic and social reforms. With support from the international community, Syrian refugees in Jordan and other nations continue to show remarkable resilience.
The World Bank estimates that by 2050 more than 300 million young people will enter the job market in MENA. This means that by 2050, MENA countries will need to create approximately 10 million jobs per year. This level of growth represents a tremendous opportunity.
Many new jobs will have to come from a competitive private sector. This will necessitate quality educational systems designed to support this next generation with the skills and competencies for the future job market. This presents a distinct opportunity for the accountancy profession. Ultimately, for the MENA region to thrive, governments, businesses, and the overall financial infrastructure will need to be underpinned by robust financial information preparation and reporting, analytical thinking, business advisory services, and creative problem-solving. Professional accountants will be uniquely placed to fill these needs.
Now more than ever the MENA region needs strong professional accountancy organizations (PAOs) serving as key partners to governments, regulators, and businesses in driving development. Only when PAOs are equipped with the resources and capacity to function properly can they develop the capable and competent accountancy professionals the region needs. In turn these professionals, when adhering to strong professional, technical, and ethical standards, can engender trust and credibility that fortifies government, business and the financial system.
Well-functioning PAOs are also essential to support the continuous learning and development of these professionals, review the quality of work, and enforce disciplinary measures where necessary.
In the MENA region this is especially significant as many of PAOs’ development has been hampered, particularly in fragile and conflict-affected jurisdictions. As development accelerates, national PAOs have the opportunity to take on these roles and enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of government—to the benefit of their countries and societies.
Presently, donor resources are spent on maintaining costly parallel systems to ensure money is allocated and spent as intended. With stronger PAOs in the region, those resources can be better directed to the true objectives of assistance—improving health, education, and livelihoods.
The significance of identified trends and needs in the MENA region is driving IFAC’s development of a report on challenges specific to the MENA region and PAOs. Leveraging data from our Member Compliance Program, the report will provide a deeper analysis on the data included in the International Standards: 2019 Global Status Report. The report will also identify challenges and spotlight successful practices that could be replicated throughout the region.
These trends and needs have also spurred the IFAC PAO Development Committee to form a MENA Working Group. This working group strives to increase the understanding of and advocate for solutions to the obstacles PAOs in the MENA region face. When the report is final, the MENA Working Group will work to raise awareness and advocate for partnerships and innovative support for the region. Meanwhile, the MENA Working Group welcomes comments, ideas, and solutions implemented from other regions in the spirit of global collaboration.
The future of the MENA profession is bright and IFAC looks forward to seeing its growth.
Stay tuned in 2020 for report launch!