March 25, 2013

Is Europe Ready for EPSAS?

Posted by Franck Bessette[1]

The sovereign debt crisis has underlined the need for governments of the European Union (EU) to clearly demonstrate their financial stability and for more rigorous and more transparent reporting of fiscal data. The EU promotes a system of harmonized accruals-based accounting standards for all entities of the government sector. IPSAS is currently the only internationally recognized set of standards. It is founded on the international financial reporting standards (IFRS), widely applied by the private sector, and at present comprises 32 accrual-based accounting standards, plus one cash-based standard. A recent report by the European Commission assesses the suitability of IPSAS for the Member States.  

The report notes that 15 out of 27 EU Member States already make some link to IPSAS. Of these countries, nine have national standards based on or in line with IPSAS, five make some references to it, and one country uses IPSAS in accounting at the local government level. However, despite recognition of the high value of IPSAS, no Member State has implemented the standards in full. Fully harmonized accrual-based public-sector accounting would provide a firmer basis for evaluating the financial position and performance of government activities at all levels.

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January 16, 2013

Are We Entering a New Era in PFM: “Rule of the Accountants”?

Posted by Renaud Duplay[1]

Accountants—especially at parties—may sometimes feel like no one is paying attention to what they have to say. A recent research paper by Jens Heiling, a Technical Manager with the International Public Sector Accounting Standards Board (IPSAS), and James Chan, Professor Emeritus of Accounting at the University of Illinois, should reassure them.

Based on individual experiences from different countries, the authors draw a pattern of the evolving relationship between accounting and budgeting in the public sector. Their findings describe a five-stage process of development during which accountants exert an increasingly strong influence on the budgeting process in addition to their traditional responsibilities for government accounting systems and financial reporting.

In stage 1, budgeting and accounting live in separate worlds. The authors assume that in this stage accounting information would generally be poor, inaccurate or take too long to produce. In stage 2, accounting supplements budgeting by providing up-to-date information on revenues and spending that allows internal budgetary control within the fiscal year. However, complete data on budget execution that can be matched to the original budget are often still lacking. This is provided at stage 3, where financial reporting appears but still follows the rules and standards, essentially cash-based, on which the budget is prepared. It is only at stage 4 that accounting starts to develop the own accrual-based standards that provide a broader picture of public finances, but the budget continues to be prepared and presented on a cash basis. At this point, accountants (and the external auditor) may start criticizing the methods used to prepare the budget, and press the government to provide a reconciliation of cash-based budget execution data and accrual-based financial reports. This process is extended in stage 5 where both the budget and financial reports are prepared on an accrual basis, and the budget includes comprehensive information on the government’s operating statement and cash flow, as well as its assets and liabilities.

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