IFAC Encouraged by Some Recent Developments in Government Accounting; But G-20 Needs to Maintain Focus

May 05, 2014 | New York, New York | English

There are positive signs the sovereign debt crisis is easing. The Greek and Portuguese governments have re-entered the bond markets and Portugal is poised to become the second Eurozone country, after Ireland, to exit its bailout arrangements.

Therefore, it is timely to reflect on what has been done since the bailout programs were introduced and since lenders to the Greek government wrote off significant losses on their debt holdings. Austerity measures have been implemented and government cash reserves built up, but much still needs to be done to raise the general standard of government reporting, transparency, and accountability.

We must not forget too quickly the lessons of poor government reporting—that in some cases was misleading.

At the heart of the issue remains a concern: private sector companies raising funds from investors on the capital markets are required to provide audited, accrual-based, financial statements, yet too many governments—even ones with bonds on the capital markets—don’t follow the same practices. In fact, many do not even use accrual accounting.

It has now been over a year since the G-20 Finance Ministers and Central Banks Governors' Meeting in Moscow declared a “goal of strengthening the public sector balance sheet” and of “looking at transparency and comparability of public sector reporting, and monitoring the impact of financial sector vulnerabilities on public debt.”

An integral part of promoting such transparency and comparability is accrual-based financial reporting in accordance with high-quality, globally-accepted standards, such as the International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSASs).

As one response to the G-20, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank—along with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)—have progressed a review of the governance of the International Public Sector Accounting Standards Board (IPSASB). Additionally, the European Commission, through Eurostat, initiated work to consider how public sector financial reporting can be improved within the European Union. It noted that IPSASs “represent an indisputable reference for potential development of European standards.”

“IFAC is encouraged by several initiatives that are currently underway; in particular, strengthening the current governance arrangements of the IPSASB will further enhance the credibility of IPSASs and their influence on public sector financial reporting,” said Fayezul Choudhury, Chief Executive Officer of IFAC. “However, there is much more that needs to be done, and we believe that the G-20 has a key role to play in ensuring that momentum is maintained and governments recognize the benefits of enhancing financial management and reporting—to ultimately improve transparency and accountability.”

IFAC strongly recommends that, throughout 2014 and into the coming years, the G-20—in particular, finance ministers and central bank governors—continue to focus on this critical matter. To promote greater adoption of IPSASs, IFAC believes that these standards should be added to the Financial Stability Board’s list of standards that are designated as deserving of priority implementation.

Furthermore, as part of its key strategic focus IFAC will continue to promote the need for enhanced public sector reporting and financial management through its recently launched Accountability Now! initiative, which aims to promote awareness of the issue, facilitate guidance on implementation of IPSASs, and encourage the development of needed technical capacity.


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