IFAC Sovereign Debt Seminar Exposes Urgent Need for Transformation in Public Financial Management

Mar 21, 2012 | New York, New York | English

The International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) seminar, The Sovereign Debt Crisis, a Matter of Urgency―From Lessons to Reform, convened key decision makers, politicians, public finance management leaders, and others over two days in Vienna. The presentations, debates, and discussions sought a comprehensive understanding of the causes contributing to the international sovereign debt crisis and conveyed a clear and consistent message that the fiscal stress and instability associated with the crisis need to be addressed urgently, through a radical reform of public financial management systems and institutions in many countries.

“We heard over these two days that the problems with financial management and reporting are not confined to a small handful of European countries, but are widespread. There is a real danger of the current sovereign debt crisis, coupled with the fiscal challenges of aging populations, deepening into a global fiscal crisis—and it is therefore more urgent than ever that we act to bring about a radical transformation in public financial management,” said Ian Ball, CEO of IFAC. “Our goal is enhanced transparency and accountability on the part of public sector entities around the world. This would achieve long-term fiscal sustainability, more effective and efficient governments, and reduced risk of new fiscal crises.”

Speakers included influential financial and accounting leaders, such as Vincenzo La Via, Chief Financial Officer of the World Bank Group; Göran Persson, former Prime Minister of Sweden; Hon. Ruth Richardson, former New Zealand Minister of Finance; and Hon. David Walker, Founder and CEO of the Comeback America Initiative and former United States Comptroller General (complete list attached).

Key findings of the seminar included:
  • The sovereign debt crisis has identified a compelling and urgent need for governments to address seriously the quality of their public financial management systems and institutions.
  • The fiscal risks associated with the aging population in many countries amplify the risks associated with poor fiscal measurement and management that have been exposed by the sovereign debt crisis.
  • The current crisis has emphasized the deficiencies associated with cash-based accounting and budgeting.
  • Governments need to adopt accrual accounting and budgeting to better measure and manage fiscal position.
  • The adoption of International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSASs) is necessary to provide global consistency and comparability in public sector financial reporting.
  • Accrual accounting and IPSASs are being successfully implemented in many countries, including Australia, Austria, New Zealand, Spain, Switzerland, and Sweden; these countries now have the tools for better resource allocation and fiscal decision-making.
  • The accountancy profession has a key role to play in this transformation, and should be leaders and catalysts for change.
  • Politicians, governments, and ministers of finance need to recognize the political advantages of high-quality financial management systems in absorbing and managing economic shocks.
  • Conversely, politicians, governments, and ministers of finance need to recognize that the cost of failure in financial management can be a loss of sovereignty.
  • Many stakeholders have a role to play: International organizations (like the Financial Stability Board) should consider the institutional changes necessary; citizens, investors, credit rating agencies, and auditors general need to be educated, communicated with, and engaged.
  • The International Public Sector Accounting Standards Board must have strong governance and legitimacy, as well as financial and operational stability.

The Sovereign Debt Crisis, a Matter of Urgency—From Lessons to Reform took place March 19-20, 2012, at the Hilton Vienna. Event sponsors included CECCAR, Ernst & Young, PwC, and the World Bank.

For more information about the conference, visit http://sovereigndebt.ifac.org.

About IFAC
IFAC is the global organization for the accountancy profession dedicated to serving the public interest by strengthening the profession and contributing to the development of strong international economies. IFAC is comprised of 167 members and associates in 127 countries and jurisdictions, representing approximately 2.5 million accountants in public practice, education, government service, industry, and commerce.

Speakers for The Sovereign Debt Crisis, a Matter of Urgency—From Lessons to Reform included:
  • Ian Ball, Chief Executive Officer, International Federation of Accountants
  • Andreas Bergmann, Chair, International Public Sector Accounting Standards Board
  • Jón Blöndal, Head of Budgeting and Public Expenditures, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
  • Robert Dacey, Chief Accountant, the United States Government Accountability Office
  • Prof. Dr. Roger J.M. Dassen RA, Global Managing Director Clients, Services and Talent, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited
  • John M. Herhalt, Global Chair, Government and Infrastructure, KPMG LLP
  • Ms. Belén Hernández, Public Accounting Directorate, Spain
  • Vincenzo La Via, Chief Financial Officer, World Bank Group
  • Bo Lundgren, Director General, Swedish National Debt Office
  • Professor the Hon. Stephen Martin, Chief Executive, Committee for Economic Development of Australia
  • The Hon. Ruth Richardson, Former New Zealand Finance Minister
  • Göran Persson, Former Prime Minister of Sweden
  • Gerhard Steger, Director General Budget and Public Finance Ministry of Finance, Austria
  • Jan Sturesson, Leader Global Government and Public Services, PWC
  • Göran Tidström, President, International Federation of Accountants
  • James S. Turley, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Ernst & Young
  • Nicolas Véron, Senior Fellow, Bruegel–Brussels, Visiting Fellow, Peterson Institute for International Economics–Washington, D.C.
  • Hon. David M. Walker, Founder, President and CEO, Comeback America Initiative and Former Comptroller General of the U.S.
  • Fritz Zurbrügg, Director, Swiss Federal Finance Administration

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