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February 11, 2011

Professionalisation of PFM – Lessons Learnt From Four Case Studies

Posted by Alan Edwards, International Director, CIPFA

The British love “Who Do you Think You Are” a BBC TV programme that explores celebrity family history. I tried to explore mine. The West Midlands Edwards family tree ran out with my great great grandfather when all I could find was that he was born in Wales – there are a lot of Edwards in Wales! But the common characteristic I found was that all my family were miners. Then I came along and became the first one to join a profession.

My tale of social mobility is replicated 100s of thousands of times around the world. The rise of the accounting profession correlates neatly with economic growth and rising living standards; hence my own and CIPFA’s interest in promoting professionalisation of PFM in the developing world. 

CIPFA will shortly be issuing a paper and four case studies on this topic following research kind supported by DFID. We will also be addressing the issue alongside many others at our upcoming international conference on PFM in Westminster, London on 15th to 17th March – see www.cipfa.org.uk/pfmconference. I have to say the line-up of speakers is fantastic. 

The four countries we examined were: Lesotho, Mozambique, Nigeria and Tanzania.  All four of the countries are former colonies. They are at different stages in their development of professionalisation of PFM, with Mozambique perhaps considered towards one end of the spectrum and Lesotho towards the opposite end.

Learning points from the Case Studies

To facilitate understanding, four strategic level themes from the CIPFA Public Financial Management model were used to carry out the analysis.  These four themes are those that we consider to be essential to good financial management in organisations in general.  They are also relatively easy to understand in a developing world context.

The four themes are: Leadership; People; Processes and Stakeholders. 


All four cases indicate the need for strong, engaged and committed leadership, at a senior level in Government, to drive professionalisation forward – unfortunately it is not evident that any case provides an exemplar in this respect though there are positive signs that Governments are recognising the need for strengthening human resource capability and capacity.

Continuity of funding for a period of 5+ years is essential. As is the recognition that professionalisation takes time to gain momentum and achieve tangible, sustainable results.


As with other change projects, professionalisation may be perceived to be a significant threat to incumbent managers and mentors and this needs to be addressed at source.

We also found no one size fits all. Imported and imposed solutions will not resolve the problems of countries with different cultural and economic profiles.

Unless achievement of a qualification is appropriately recognised within the employment package, difficulties in recruitment and retention of trained staff will continue.


The presence of a dominant private sector accountancy body in a country may pose challenges in terms of their engagement with development of an appropriate qualification for the public sector, but in principle offer a ready made base structure on which to build a cost effective approach to professionalization in the public sector.

Existing training providers suffer from historic under investment in terms of their human resources, learning material and training environment, and where possible Governments should consider strengthening their capacity or where appropriate using a range of alternative routes to training provision.


Donors recognise the need for reform in terms of human resource capability and capacity. However they need also to recognise that short term training events/courses only provide a quick fix.  In the long term such courses tend to consume and divert resources which would be more effectively and efficiently used to develop professional training – at junior, technician and full professional levels.

Other countries

The paper not only explores the four countries listed but also compares their performance in professionalising PFM with the rising economic stars Chinaand India. What we found was in both cases sustained Government support for the development of accounting as a complement to economic development initiatives. It was not always like that. For example accounting in China traditionally was not a prestigious occupation.  Discrimination against accountants was widespread.  Accountants: “were seen as greedy and little better than thieves – a shameful occupation” (Yee 2006).   Then during the 1950s the accountancy profession began to emerge in China, encouraged by increasing commercialisation and strengthening industry, only at that point to be quashed by the Chinese Government.   During the last 20 years however, society and values in China changed dramatically, and accountancy has achieved an elevated occupational status.  The Chinese Government emerged as the most significant influencing force in enabling the rapid professionalisation of Chinese accounting. 

By way of contrast India, which unlike the UK, did not achieve professionalisation through the grouping of accountants to form a profession.   Rather the direct involvement of Government influenced the development of professionalisation.  This involvement was often at odds with the views of a body of accountants already existing in the country, and occurred through legislative means. 

The Indian Government supported the development of an accounting profession because of their perception that accounting was an important tool for economic development and that accountancy had a pivotal role to play in their growth and a fairer distribution of wealth. The authority of the Indian Accountancy Institute and accounting profession came, in some part, from statutory authority and Government backing and approval.

Our conclusions

Professionalisation is in many ways a package deal, including education and training as well as transformation of the supporting behaviours and infrastructure of management, development of stakeholders  etc   There is no one size approach to professionalisation of PFM – historical influences, socio-economic trends and cultural realities all add complexity to the issue.  But there are clear benefits to Government of moving along a path which seeks to ensure that all Public Financial Managers have a level of training that meets the identified needs of the organisation and country, that the training is credible and that it is maintained to a high level throughout that persons’ career.   And there are clearly benefits to the individual of being offered and being able to take up appropriate training.

At a personal level I have seen first hand the impact professionalisation can make on people in one of the case study countries Lesotho. I captured some of the students’ enthusiasm in videos that can be seen on our website www.cipfa.org.uk/international.  What I particularly loved was the 2010 prize winner who was so committed to her study that she completed her exams whilst heavily pregnant. Indeed when her child was born 5 days after the exams all her friends and family called her baby CIPFA! Perhaps we can learn lessons in commitment from the students in Lesotho.

Note: The posts on the IMF PFM Blog should not be reported as representing the views of the IMF. The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the IMF or IMF policy.


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