September 15, 2017

How Peer Learning Can Advance Fiscal Transparency


Posted by Juan Pablo Guerrero[1]

When it comes to learning, few methods surpass learning from experience. Practice, trials and errors, help people become experts. Unfortunately, such learning by trial and error can be an expensive way to design public policy, in terms of institutional resources, as well as in terms of social and political implications. For the introduction of new policy practices, a second-best method can involve learning from peers. A peer who deals with similar tasks and institutional objectives, such as advancing fiscal transparency, might very well find comparable obstacles and lessons along the way. The shared experience of peers incorporates crucial elements of teaching, such as methodology, approaches and lessons learned. At the same time, the peer-to-peer rapport gives significant value and credibility to the experiences shared and exchanged.

With the above in mind, the Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency (GIFT) network has invested strongly in peer-to-peer learning activities since 2014. GIFT is a multi-stakeholder action-network which aims to achieve sustained, measurable improvements in fiscal transparency, public participation and accountability in countries around the world. The network aims to advance incentives, norms, peer-learning, technical assistance, and new technologies. Its 37 members, called stewards, see in GIFT meetings an opportunity to exchange their experiences on a wide range of topics, and to learn from others.[2] 

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September 08, 2017

Transforming Reports into Modern Social Communication  

Esther image

Posted by Esther Palacio[1]

Traditional reports are losing their effectiveness and efficiency in the modern IT-dependent world, as more friendly forms of communication appear. We are talking here primarily about reports written by government agencies or think tanks, or by international finance agencies or donors, or by other public sector bodies. How should we take advantage of the new technologies and transform long and often unread reports into modern social communications that strengthen the impact of policy and technical advice? 

Reports are written with the intention to communicate. Nevertheless, in the modern era, most people rely on the traditional media and the social media. Few people have the time or inclination to read long reports. As a result, excellent reports containing important messages, analysis and data, risk not reaching their target audience, and often have little impact in practice. Moreover, the authors of reports rarely think through the key messages that need to be communicated to a wider audience, and who are the members of that audience.

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March 29, 2017

Harnessing the Power of Accrual in Managing Public Finances


Posted by Guohua Huang[1]

On March 6, 2017 the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank Group (WBG) and the International Public Sector Accounting Standards Board (IPSASB) co-organized a seminar on Transparency and Beyond: Harnessing the Power of Accrual in Managing Public Finances, in Washington DC. Christopher Towe, Deputy Director of the IMF’s Fiscal Affairs Department, noted that the seminar brought together key stakeholders, including standard setters, producers, and users of government financial statements. It facilitated a debate on various perspectives, opportunities, and challenges in the adoption of accrual accounting by governments, and the way forward.

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March 15, 2017

A New Path to Improve FMIS Performance


Posted by Gerardo Uña[1]

In a previous blog article, I spelled out some of the reasons why the performance of FMIS systems in developing countries around the world has been generally disappointing. These reasons include the lack of well-crafted conceptual design, sufficiently strong leadership by the ministry of finance, financial and technical capacities within the government, secure financing, good project management, adequate testing of the systems before they are implemented, and a feasible maintenance strategy. In this second article, I consider the question of whether there is an alternative path for implementing FMIS that would be more cost-effective, and could lead to improved results.

Looking back historically, we can see that the implementation of FMIS went through two main phases. In the first phase, from about the early-1980s until the mid-1990s, the dominant approach was to implement a comprehensive IT system that supported core PFM business processes, including budget preparation and execution, cash management, accounting, and debt management. In addition, “peripheral” functions such as public procurement, payroll, and asset management also used the same technological platform. This approach broadly replicated the so-called Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP[2]) systems that were widely used in the private sector to support companies’ resource management business processes.

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March 09, 2017

How to Assess FMIS Performance


Posted by Gerardo Uña[1]

Financial Management Information Systems (FMIS) are comprehensive systems that support the preparation and execution of the budget, accounting and financial reporting, and many other public financial management (PFM) functions. They are used to integrate budgetary, accounting, treasury, and public debt management processes, and to generate a country’s in-year fiscal reports and annual financial statements. As well as producing timely, relevant, and reliable financial data, well-designed FMIS can play a critical role in improving the quality of public expenditures and fiscal transparency.

After three decades of FMIS implementation across different regions, such as Latin America, Africa and Asia, many countries have initiated a process of modernization to improve the functionalities, coverage, and integration of their systems. However, the cost and implementation challenges of these reforms have been very large, leading to disappointing results in many cases. For these reasons, countries are looking for new ways of designing FMIS that make the best use of modern technology to integrate functions and processes efficiently and cost-effectively.

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March 07, 2017

Public Finance Professionals: Guardians of the Purse


Posted by Susanna Di Feliciantonio[1]

Public money matters. How governments manage it should be an issue that concerns all of us. In recent years, the debate has tended to focus on fiscal sustainability issues, as well as the role of financial reporting and public sector accounting. But improved public financial management cannot be achieved through improved reporting alone. Ultimately, it is public finance professionals who are at the heart of the system – and ICAEW (the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales) wanted to know how they feel about how well they are doing.

ICAEW recently commissioned a series of in-depth research interviews with selected senior finance professionals in ten EU member states, large and small, older and newer. We asked them to reflect on the public finance functions they operate, the challenges they face, and the changes that are taking place. The public finance ecosystem in Europe is a varied one, yet it is clear that professionals from the Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania and Sweden face similar issues and challenges.

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January 05, 2017

Reconciling a “True and Fair” View of Public Accounting with Realities


Posted by Johann Seiwald[1]

The fourth meeting of the International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS) Board in 2016 was held in Stellenbosch, South Africa from December 6-9, 2016. As usual, the meeting focused on the board’s core business of setting accounting standards for the public sector. The agenda covered a broad range of technical accounting topics such as heritage assets, revenues and non-exchange transactions, leases, financial instruments, social benefits, and public sector combination. But issues of more general interest were also discussed.

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December 19, 2016

Public Sector Accounting Reform in the EU


Posted by Martin Manuzi and Simon Tosserams[1]

High quality public services, democratic accountability, intergenerational fairness, and financial stability are just some of the key issues that people all over the world value, and depend heavily on good public sector accounting. Modern and transparent reporting is the cornerstone of effective management of public finances – and thereby critical for any country’s economic sustainability. 

The financial crisis led to austerity policies in many countries and an increased focus on better financial management in the public sector. It also resulted in the widespread acknowledgement of deficiencies in the financial information reported by EU governments, which were deemed insufficient to make a fair assessment of risk. Today government securities, whether in the EU or around the world, are no longer perceived as risk-free, and their proper rating and valuation is hampered by the opaqueness of public sector reporting. The EU can play an essential part in championing reforms in this area, which require both new legislation and institutional change. 

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November 10, 2016

How to Check Integrity of Fiscal Data


Posted by Benoit Wiest and Pokar Khemani[1]

Why is integrity of fiscal data so important?  Fiscal data relates to the use of public funds and its accurate reporting is a high priority for governments and donors, as well as for the IMF in its work on surveillance and program monitoring. Comprehensive fiscal reporting in line with international standards such as the IMF’s Fiscal Transparency Code and the Government Finance Statistics Manual (GFSM 2014) provides reasonable assurance about a government’s fiscal position and the integrity of the underlying data. However, the accuracy and reliability of government accounts and fiscal data can still be an issue. In many cases, the data provided by the authorities for program monitoring and surveillance are characterized by significant and persistent statistical discrepancies between the fiscal balance (“above-the-line”) and net financing (“below-the line”). These discrepancies are usually an indication of underlying weaknesses in a country’s public financial management (PFM) system, as well as issues with the integrity of financial data, and processes for collecting and disseminating this information. Significant and persistent discrepancies in data may require an investigation, and the development of specific measures to deal with these issues.

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September 26, 2016

A Roadmap for Implementing Accrual Accounting

Accrual in the Public Sector

Posted by Suzanne Flynn, Delphine Moretti, and Joe Cavanagh[1]

Last week the IMF published a new paper in its technical notes and manuals (TNM) series, a guide to “Implementing Accrual Accounting in the Public Sector” by Joe Cavanagh, Suzanne Flynn and Delphine Moretti (TNM 16/06). The technical note is available here.

Many countries have changed or are considering changing the basis of their financial accounts from cash to accruals. This TNM explains what accrual accounting (AA) means for the public sector and discusses current trends in moving from cash to accrual accounting.  It outlines the factors that governments should consider in preparing for and sequencing the transition. The note recognizes that governments will have different starting points and objectives, and varying practices in preparing financial statements. Countries also vary considerably in the volume of stocks and flows, and the number of public sector entities, that are recorded outside the government accounts. These factors need to be considered when planning and sequencing the implementation of AA.

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August 23, 2016

Cash Basis IPSAS Needs to be More Ambitious


Posted by Andy Wynne[1]

The IPSAS Board has issued an exposure draft to revise its Cash Basis IPSAS and comments were being requested by end July:

Late comments are still welcome, however, and this article could be considered my informal submission. As a PFM practitioner in Africa and elsewhere I have worked on accounting reforms that are both achievable and of practical use. The proposed revised Cash Basis IPSAS is feasible, but does not add much for informing policy makers or providing accountability to the public. The initiative to amend the present standard is indeed welcome, but more is needed to make the standard a useful guide to good practice. Below we provide some comments on how the revised Cash Basis IPSAS could be improved.

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July 14, 2016

Accrual Budgeting in Kazakhstan


Posted by John Zohrab[1]

From the perspective of fiscal transparency, accrual budgeting (AB) is superior to cash budgeting, because it facilitates the management of the budget in terms of the full resource implications of policies and programs and provides a much wider set of fiscal indicators. A cash budget is managed in terms of cash flows and balances whereas, in addition, an accrual budget takes into account accrued expenses and revenues, as well as the full range of assets, and liabilities and net worth.[2]

However, implementing AB is generally perceived to entail risks and complexities. This is presumably why, starting in 1989, only a handful of countries have so far implemented it in central government: Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, New Zealand, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. It is also presumably why most countries prefer to stick with cash budgeting. So why is Kazakhstan considering the introduction of AB?[3]

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May 03, 2016

Dispelling Fiscal Illusions

Fiscal illusions

Posted by Tim Irwin[1]

There’s a lot talk these days about government balance sheets. You can find them mentioned, for instance, in the April 2016 editions of the Fiscal Monitor, the Global Financial Stability Report, and the World Economic Outlook. The issues discussed there include the sensitivity of government balance sheets to currency depreciation, their links to the balance sheets of banks, and the value of testing how they would stand up to severe economic shocks.

But how much progress have governments made in actually compiling and publishing their balance sheets?

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April 28, 2016

No More “Government Business Enterprises” in IPSASs


Posted by Guohua Huang[1]

Government Business Enterprises (GBEs) used to be an important concept in International Public Sector Accounting Standards. Previously, these standards applied to all public sector entities other than GBEs. The IPSAS Board (IPSASB) stated that GBEs applied International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRSs), which apply to profit-oriented entities, and are issued by the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB).

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April 25, 2016

Saluting 40 Years of Accounting Reform in India


By Suhas Joshi[1]

1976 marked a major step in the Indian accounting reform process with the creation of a new organization called the Controller General of Accounts (CGA). The CGA, as the head of the governmental accounting profession, is the principal advisor to the government on all accounting matters. He is also primarily responsible for establishing and administering a technically sound management accounting system across the government, and for the compilation of the government’s accounts and their submission to the Parliament. The CGA heads the Indian Civil Accounts Service (ICAS), which was carved out from the Indian Audit & Accounts Service in 1976, following the separation of the accounting and auditing functions in India.

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February 22, 2016

The Whole Elephant: A Proposal for Integrating Cash, Accrual, and Sustainability-Gap Accounts


Posted by Tim Irwin[1]

Government finances are affected by many kinds of changes. Most obviously, there are cash inflows and cash outflows. But even in the absence of such flows, government finances are rarely static: the government may be accumulating unpaid bills, for instance, or it may hold shares and bonds whose value is surging or plummeting.

Even if there are no changes in the value of the government’s financial assets and liabilities, the government may be developing or running down its physical assets. It may be building new roads, for instance, or allowing them to deteriorate through lack of maintenance.

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January 11, 2016

Consultative Advisory Group Will Improve IPSASB Governance


Posted by Svetlana Klimenko and Delphine Moretti[1]

The process of strengthening the governance and oversight of IPSASB was launched in 2014, and led to the creation of the Public Interest Committee…

As announced previously on this blog, a global consultation was conducted in early 2014 to gather the views of the public on the future directions for the governance and oversight of the International Public Sector Accounting Standards Board (IPSASB).

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July 13, 2015

Seychelles Moves Toward Cash-basis IPSAS


Posted by Johann Seiwald[1]

According to Seychelles’ Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) as of 2012, the government is required to prepare its financial statements in accordance with international public sector accounting standards (IPSAS). The government recently reached an important milestone on this path by producing a set of financial statements for the fiscal year 2013 which comply with many of the requirements of the cash basis IPSAS. Seychelles is a front runner among the 18 countries in Africa which have announced plans to align their accounting systems with international standards. These countries include Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe.

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June 29, 2015

A Very Short Introduction to Accounting

Posted by Tim Irwin[1]


Christopher Nobes’s Accounting: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2014) is about private not public financial management, but it may be of interest to people working on PFM.

For one thing, there are many similarities in the accounting problems faced by firms and governments, even if there are also crucial differences in their objectives, their functions, and their influence on the economies in which they are located. Moreover, Nobes offers a succinct and persuasive explanation of why private-sector accounting developed as it did, in response to the changing needs of businesses and their investors (e.g., why accounts payable and receivable were shown on balance sheets before cash and inventory). That explanation may prompt thoughts about how government accounting should develop.

For another, Nobes’s comments on the rise of International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) suggest interesting parallels with the development of International Public Sector Accounting Standards. He writes (pp. 75–76),

  • The UK’s joining the EU was “the main spur to the setting up by accountants of the IASC [International Accounting Standards Committee, the forerunner of the IASB, or International Accounting Standards Board] to try to keep accounting out of the control of governments.”
  • “The EU had always been opposed to the IASC, as a Trojan horse of Anglo-American accounting, but eventually it accepted IFRS as the only practical way of getting harmonized standards for EU capital markets.”
  • “The inability of governments in Roman law countries (e.g. France) to give up control of accounting has led to constant attempts at interference from the EU in the operations of the IASB.”

Nobes also presents interesting data on the number of members of each of several national accounting bodies (pp. 5–6). The chart above expresses these numbers as percentages of each country’s population in 2013, rounded to the nearest decimal point. Nobes notes that international comparisons are “fraught with difficulties” (p. 7) and that there are accountants who are not members of accounting bodies. Nevertheless, the differences are striking. If they reflect differences in the influence of accountants in each country, they may help explain why the Australian and New Zealand governments were among the first to adopt private-sector-like accounting, while the German government has shown little interest in doing so.

[1] Senior Economist, PFM1 Division, Fiscal Affairs Department, IMF 

 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.

January 15, 2015

PFM Reform: Lessons, Promises and Tears

Cambodia Conferece

Posted by Suhas Joshi and Sandeep Saxena[1]

If you don’t know where you are heading you will not understand why you are walking. This was the key message that emerged from the Asia Regional PFM Conference, held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on November 25-26, 2014. The event was jointly organized by the Cambodian Ministry of Economy and Finance and the Fiscal Affairs Department of the IMF. Around 180 participants from 15 countries discussed the wide range of PFM reforms undertaken in the region and elsewhere in the world, the reasons behind their success and failure, and the lessons that could be learnt from such failure.

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January 09, 2015

Efficient Debt Management through SALM

Balance Sheet







Posted by Yasemin Hurcan and Fatos Koc[1]

A recent paper by Fatos Koc discusses the benefits and challenges of adopting a sovereign asset and liability management (SALM) framework in debt management.[2] The paper draws on the experience of countries such as New Zealand, Denmark and Turkey, all of which have adopted the SALM approach, in various forms.

The SALM framework is based on a balance-sheet approach. It is designed to identify and effectively manage the key financial exposures of the public sector as a whole. SALM entails monitoring and quantifying the impact of movements in exchange rates, interest rates, inflation, and commodity prices on both sovereign assets and liabilities in a coordinated way. On the liability side, the aim is to minimize debt service costs subject to a prudent level of risk. On the asset side, the aim is to accumulate an adequate level of net foreign assets, including foreign exchange reserves, in order to conduct effective monetary and foreign exchange policies, and provide a buffer against external shocks.

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January 05, 2015

Accrual Budgeting in Estonia










Posted by Eliko Pedastsaar

FAD recently interviewed Ivar Sikk, a Senior Advisor in the Executive Director’s Office of the World Bank, and a former Deputy Secretary (Budget) in the Estonian Ministry of Finance, about the government’s decision to introduce accrual budgeting.

Why has Estonia decided to adopt accrual budgeting (AB)?

Macroeconomic and fiscal pressures are likely to remain or grow over the medium term as a result of an aging population, the challenge of maintaining a liberal trade policy, and ensuring a favorable investment and business climate. Maintaining or increasing the quantity and quality of public services will become more and more difficult in this environment of restrained resources, and requires new approaches to budgeting and fiscal policy. The government’s decision to introduce AB will transform the budget from a statement of flows to a statement of fiscal impact, and will help identify the true cost of public services. The preconditions for the introduction of AB are good. Estonia is a small country with solid budgetary institutions and a strong track record of implementing budgetary reforms.

What are the expected benefits of this change, and the challenges likely to be faced?


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December 08, 2014

IPSAS: Guidelines And Realism Needed for Developing Countries


Posted by Sylva Okolieaboh[1] and Delphine Moretti[2]

IPSAS adoption both in the OECD and the developing world has been discussed extensively in recent years, including on this blog. However, while many experts have expressed opinions on these standards, few practitioners have provided so far an account of the questions raised by the adoption of IPSAS in their countries, and feedback on the main issues faced in implementing these standards. The guidance note presented in this post, written by Sylva Okolieaboh, is of general relevance to countries wanting to introduce IPSAS. It sets out lessons learned from the ongoing experience in a number of African countries including Nigeria, and aims to provide true-to-life insights.

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October 31, 2014

Governance of the IPSASB: Latest Developments


Posted by Delphine Moretti

As discussed previously on this blog, the IPSASB Governance Review Group (“the Review Group”) conducted an online global public consultation, from January 17 to April 30, 2014, to garner views from the public at large on the future directions for the governance and oversight of the International Public Sector Accounting Standards Board (IPSASB). The summary of answers to the consultation has now been published.

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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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November 26, 2012

Accounting Reforms on the Agenda in Azerbaijan

Posted by Mark Silins

The Treasury Community of Practice (TCOP) of PEMPAL[1] conducted a highly interactive three-day workshop entitled “Public Sector Accounting Policies and Practices” from November 6–8, 2012.  Treasury heads and specialists from 18 TCOP-member countries, as well as representatives of the Ministry of Finance of France, took part in the workshop held in Baku, Azerbaijan. The workshop was supported by experts from the World Bank, OECD, SECO and the Slovenian Centre of Excellence in Finance.

The general objective of the Baku event was to provide an opportunity for TCOP members to exchange experiences in implementing public sector accounting and reporting reforms. The event was designed to deepen participants’ understanding of the conceptual, institutional and operational challenges associated with the implementation of accounting reforms, particularly transition to the use of accruals and alignment with IPSAS. The event involved some very informative presentations by officials from participating countries on good practice and practical tips and traps associated with this area of reform, supplemented by input from a small number of international experts. This approach provided a useful basis for a range of dynamic group discussions by TCOP-member countries. As the host country, Azerbaijan also provided detailed information on its broader economic and PFM reforms to date, along with its plans for the future.

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September 28, 2012

Public Prominence and “Muscle” — the Role of the French Court of Accounts

Posted by Maximilien Queyranne and Delphine Moretti

Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs) are the national bodies, found in many countries around the globe, responsible for reviewing public expenditure and providing an independent opinion on government financial reporting. The Court of Accounts (Cour des Comptes) in France is one of these bodies but has a wider range of responsibilities, and a more prominent place in public life and political debates than in other countries.

The Court is part of the judicial system and consequently operates independently of the executive and legislative branches of government. Since a ruling by the Supreme Court (Conseil Constitutionnel) in 2001, the Court’s independence as well as its institutional relationship with the executive and legislative branches has been protected by the Constitution. A revision of the Constitution in July 2008 incorporated these important principles (article 47-2).

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September 20, 2012

Government Accounting Tricks Designed to Conceal Rather Than Reveal

Posted by Tim Irwin

Working paper logo
It’s well known that governments sometimes use accounting devices to make their reported deficits smaller than, in some sense, they really are. But how do these devices work? And how can they be revealed?  A new IMF working paper by FAD’s Tim Irwin—Some Algebra of Fiscal Transparency: How Accounting Devices Work and How to Reveal Them—discusses these issues.  

One way to answer the questions is to consider future deficits. Deficit devices, unlike genuine changes in fiscal policy, reduce this year’s deficit only at the expense of future ones. And their use can therefore be revealed if governments also produce good fiscal forecasts.

This paper takes a different approach. It starts by defining the deficit as the decline in the government’s net worth and then shows how deficit devices can be analyzed as transactions involving assets and liabilities that are not recognized on the government’s balance sheet. For example, many governments do not include nonfinancial assets such as land and buildings on their balance sheets, so they can reduce their reported deficit by selling these assets, even though this doesn’t really improve their finances. It would seem, then, that accounting devices can be prevented by ensuring that all assets and liabilities are recognized on the balance sheet.

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September 18, 2012

“IPSAS Explained” – Second Edition [1]

Posted by Delphine Moretti

The recent publication of the second edition of “IPSAS Explained” is good news for readers who do not have time to plough through the two volumes and daunting 1,500 pages of the International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS) Board’s Handbook. The book is written by Thomas Mueller-Marques Berger who is himself a member of the IPSAS Board.

The main asset of the book is its very clear and concise presentation of the standards, which, as the author notes in his foreword, are “sometimes complex and inapprehensible”, especially to non-accountants. As was the case with the first edition, the new book fully succeeds in providing the reader with essential information – compressed into 5-10 pages - about each of the 32 standards. For this we are indebted to the author’s comprehensive knowledge and understanding of the field. For each standard, a brief chapter describes factually the objective of the standard, the international financial reporting standard (IFRS) on which it is based, together with an assessment of its scope and content, definitions used, relevant accounting rules and principles, and application date. The coverage of existing and recently published standards and exposure drafts includes a section on the much awaited IPSAS 32 “Service concession arrangements: grantor” together with a discussion of the exposure draft on reporting the long-term sustainability of finances of public sector entities. A third edition of the volume is to be expected as the on-going process of aligning the IPSAS with their IFRS counterparts should bring further changes to the IPSAS framework very soon, and some major additions to the framework are scheduled in the years ahead.

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June 14, 2012

The Adoption of the Cash-based IPSAS by Developing Countries: Detour or Good Foundation?

Posted by Guilhem Blondy and Kris Kauffmann

In advising countries on the appropriate government accounting reforms PFM specialists often have different views. Developing countries are often encouraged to adopt the cash-IPSAS standard as a first step to modernizing government accounting; others see this as a detour to improving accounting practices. Our colleagues Kris Kauffmann and Guilhem Blondy discuss this issue, first disagree and then reach tentative agreement…it seems. Comments welcome!

Guilhem. In my view, the adoption of the cash-IPSAS standard tends to distract developing countries from more important accounting reforms rather than to help them:

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June 08, 2012

Accounting and the Budget Framework

Posted by Julie Cooper

For decades the debate has raged on about the applicability for government of what is often referred to as private sector accounting methodology.  Those who argue against its use in government offer up the differences in management focus between the private and public sectors to support their position. They argue that because the private sector is focused on profit generation the underlying concepts of accounting are not valid for government purposes. This argument is simplistic and fails to recognize the overarching purpose of all accounting systems.

Accounting is an information and measurement system that identifies, records, and communicates relevant, reliable, and comparable information about an organization’s activities. Providing information about how an organization performs is an important aim of accounting. This is true for both private and public sectors. Another similarity between the two sectors is that they both focus on the efficient allocation of resources to realize their goals. The difference between these two sectors lay in how that information is reported and used not the accounting per se.

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June 04, 2012

Transición a la contabilidad en base de devengo: Notas Técnicas y Manuales del FMI

Publicada por Abdul Khan

La contabilidad en base de devengo es un tema candente en la actualidad, y muchos países han manifestado interés en adoptar este tipo de régimen contable. En una Nota Técnica de septiembre de 2009 elaborada por Abdul Khan, del Departamento de Finanzas Públicas del FMI, y por Stephen Mayes, ex funcionario de la institución, se presentan recomendaciones sobre el diseño, la planificación y la implementación de un régimen de contabilidad en base de devengo. La Nota aborda una serie de cuestiones relacionadas con la implementación de la contabilidad en base de devengo, y tiene por objeto establecer las pautas generales sobre las condiciones previas necesarias para una transición exitosa a la contabilidad en base de devengo, la secuencia adecuada de las medidas de reforma y los hitos que podrían servir como indicadores de los avances.

Las directrices de la Nota están concebidas para su aplicación principalmente en departamentos y unidades del gobierno general dentro de jurisdicciones nacionales, provinciales/estatales y locales. Se supone que las empresas estatales que participan en actividades comerciales ya preparan los presupuestos, llevan su contabilidad y presentan informes en base de devengo completo.

Haga clic aquí para descargar el texto íntegro de la nota en inglés o español

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May 30, 2012

What Accounting Standards for Governments of the Global South?

Posted by Andy Wynne,

Timely, clear and open annual financial statements play an essential role in the accountability of governments to parliament and their citizens. However, there are no widely adopted international standards that reflect existing good practice. Virtually all developing countries currently use the modified cash basis. But there is no internationally accepted guidance that details the standards and good practices which should be adopted for this approach.

The only available international standard is the Cash Basis International Public Sector Accounting Standard (IPSAS). This was first issued in January 2003, but although it has been widely promoted by the donor community, PEFA and IFAC, not a single government in the world has actually been able to adopt this standard. This is not from want of trying, many governments have looked at the standard, but recognised that it is not practical to implement its key requirements. It is estimated, for example, that at least 31 governments in Africa have tried to adopt this standard. One international consultant recently estimated that he had worked in around 30 countries trying to adopt the standard, but that its key requirements had not proved practical.

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March 05, 2012

“Give time some time”: A Proposed Strategy for Implementing Financial Accounting in the WAEMU Member Countries

Posted by Guilhem Blondy and Xavier Rame

The directives establishing the harmonized fiscal framework in the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) in 2009 state that “the government shall keep budgetary accounts and financial accounts” and that implementation of the latter must be completed by January 1, 2019 at the latest.[1]

To attain that objective, this post proposes a sequenced strategy aimed at gradually, over the course of seven years (2012-2018), improving the financial information generated by financial accounting.

To understand the necessity of choosing a gradual approach, it will be helpful to recall the three basic innovations associated with the introduction of financial accounting:

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« Donner du temps au temps » : une proposition de stratégie pour la mise en œuvre de la comptabilité générale dans les Etats-membres de l’UEMOA

Posté par Guilhem Blondy et Xavier Rame

Les directives portant cadre harmonisé des finances publiques au sein de l’Union Economique et Monétaire Ouest-Africaine (UEMOA) de 2009 prévoient que « l’Etat tient une comptabilité budgétaire et une une comptabilité générale » et que la mise en oeuvre de cette dernière doit être effective au 1er janvier 2019 au plus tard.[1]

Pour atteindre cet objectif, ce post propose une stratégie séquencée selon une logique d’enrichissement progressif sur 7 ans (2012–2018) de l’information financière produite par la comptabilité générale.

Pour comprendre la nécessité de privilégier une approche progressive, il est nécessaire de rappeler les trois innovations fondamentales associées à l’introduction de la comptabilité générale :

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February 22, 2012

Accrual Accounting Essential for Government Transparency and Accountability!

Posted by Ian Ball [1]

In this post Ian Ball, CEO, International Federation of Accountants, argues that it is time for governments to take their accounting responsibilities seriously and to modernise their financial management practices. The eurozone debt crisis has highlighted widespread financial reporting failures and must lead to extensive reform, including adoption of accrual accounting and budgeting practices. Politicians and Ministries of Finance must be pressured to implement these reforms before the next crisis hits.  

The sovereign debt crisis has emphasised the seriousness of the results of poor financial management and financial reporting. Obviously, government actions to limit the impact of the global crisis have exacerbated their financial positions, as many governments acquired significant assets and liabilities, gave guarantees of various kinds, and engaged in massive fiscal stimulus programmes. But the situation now would not be as dire if so many governments had not already made commitments that they did not account for properly, and may not be able to meet.

Governments in general are clearly accounting very poorly for their financial performance and position. This could, and should, lead to significant reform. We saw how financial reporting failure in the private sector a decade or so earlier led to dramatic action, including the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act 2002 in the United States, and the creation of regulatory bodies for private sector audits in most major countries.

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December 09, 2011

Enhancing the Role of the Accountant General’s Department in the Caribbean - A Challenge from the Sidelines!

Posted by Mark Silins

In the Caribbean, and in many English-speaking countries for that matter, the State Treasury is called the Accountant General’s Department (AGD). In this post I will explore what the main tasks and functions of the AGD should be, and what minimum functionality should be expected from them.

The AGD is, one could say, the engine room that supports effective public financial management, or at least it should be. Ensuring the completeness of all financial information in the accounting system each day ensures that key financial reports are available to support timely decision making. The AGD is also the processing centre for expenditures and receipts.  Its systems should support the proper classification of all financial stocks and flows of government and provide reports on these for all different stakeholders, including parliamanent.   


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October 26, 2011

Whole of Government Accounts – What’s the Big Deal, Robin!

Posted by Andy Wynne

In a recent blog post (Whole of Government Accounts, Batman!), Richard Hughes declares that the  publication of what are called Whole of Government Accounts “represents a major milestone in UK fiscal reporting and public sector accounting practice in general”. The article suggests that this is the Olympics of accounting and the UK has just set new world records in the consolidation and accrual events. The UK seems to have “leapfrogged from the bottom to the top of the government accounting class”.

There is, however, no reason for the UK to be self-congratulatory. In my view government accountants should provide useful information on government finances to facilitate the budget process and provide accountability for the use of public resources; this information needs to be produced as efficiently as possible and presented in line with the budget presentation. On both counts the Whole of Government Accounts exercise scores rather badly. What useful additional information is really provided by this consolidation exercise and from the accrual accounting approach itself? Importantly, what are the costs involved of this “whole of government” operation.

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September 06, 2011

Lao PDR: Better Accounting to Help Growth

Posted by Suhas Joshi

The desire to sustain its recently achieved strong growth performance[1] by developing confidence in investors and making Lao a more attractive investment destination has motivated the government’s intention to move towards an international accounting standard that is recognized and accepted worldwide.

Recently, at the government’s request, I, working along with the World Bank, conducted a workshop in Vientiane on "Accounting Reform: International Experience and Implications for Laos”. The workshop, aimed at fostering the acceptance of IPSAS-based accounting standards[2] as a basis for developing Laos accounting standards. The move towards modern accounting standards had been initiated sometime back in Lao PDR and received a new impetus with the conduct of this workshop which was attended by nearly 50 decision-makers in the government, public, and private sectors. The workshop was inaugurated by Dr. Viengthong Siphandone, Vice Minister for Finance, and was closed by the Director General of the Accounting Department. At the close of the workshop the Director General announced that the government has decided to move towards IPSAS cash basis of accounting, as a first step.

The workshop comprised four sessions, the first was on the implications of adopting international accounting standards in the public sector and the second on the ongoing accounting and auditing reforms in Laos. These were followed by a session on cash basis IPSAS and drew upon international experiences in this area. Lastly the workshop discussed the Laos road map to accounting reform.

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July 22, 2011

Whole of Government Accounts, Batman!

By Richard Hughes

After 10 years of preparation, pilots and dry-run processes, last week the UK Treasury finally published the first set of Whole of Government Accounts (WGA) for financial year 2009-10. While a long-time in the making, the publication of Britain’s first ever consolidated government income statement and balance sheet represents a major milestone in UK fiscal reporting and public sector accounting practice in general.

From the Bottom to the Top of the Accounting Class

While the UK Office of National Statistics (ONS) has published consolidated fiscal statistics for the whole public sector for decades, the UK has lagged behind most countries in the world in the preparation of consolidated end-of-year accounts. Indeed, up until last week, the UK did not even produce consolidated, audited accounts for central government. The only audited government financial statements that existed were for individual government departments, local governments, and other public entities.

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June 14, 2011

Discussions of PEM PAL Treasury Community of Practice on Public Sector Accounting and Reporting Reforms

Posted by Anila Çili (Director, Central Harmonization Department on Financial Management & Control
Ministry of Finance, Albania) and Deanna Aubrey (Budget, Treasury and Internal Audit Community Facilitator, PEM PAL CEF Secretariat, Center of Excellence in Finance, Slovenia)

From 18-22 April 2011, 41 participants from Ministries of Finance and Treasuries from 15 European and Central Asian countries[1] met in Ljubljana, Slovenia to discuss public sector accounting and reporting reforms as part of the ongoing network activities under the Public Expenditure Management Peer Assisted Learning Program (PEM PAL) program.[2]  This program has 21 member countries from across the Europe and Central Asia (ECA) region who regularly meet in ‘communities of practice' to discuss reform issues in the areas of budget, treasury and internal audit ( The event was also linked to a conference on international trends in public sector accounting reforms organized by the Center of Excellence in Finance, Ljubljana Slovenia held on 20-22 April.[3] The conference involved discussions on the increased role of accounting in the public sector, especially in the post financial crisis era, its evolution in the recent years and the lessons learned.

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February 21, 2011

A Whole System Approach to Strengthening PFM (CIPFA Conference)


Posted by Alan Edwards, International Director, CIPFA

Imagine a UK without CIPFA (or a USA without CPA or Nigeria without ICAN or…) and the Permanent Secretary at the Treasury (or…) inviting an overseas institute of public finance to help create a new qualification for public sector finance staff. That is the analogy we have been using when examining the issues to address when asked to provide PFM and professionalization support in other countries. I find that helps illustrate the scale of challenge involved and the need to think through the whole system impacts of change.

CIPFA’s Whole System Approach to PFM is a more formal and comprehensive analysis of all the key players and processes. CIPFA with the support of DFID has produced this paper to assist with the design of holistic PFM improvement programmes.

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February 17, 2011

Brasil: Desafios Na Implantaçäo Do Sistema De Custos No Governo Federal

Por Victor Holanda e Mário Pessoa

Como parte da reforma da gestão pública no Brasil, o governo federal implantou de forma inovadora um sistema de informação de custo (SIC) na área pública. Um dos principais objetivos é melhorar a decisão alocativa dos recursos orçamentários, mas isso ainda não foi alcançado. A ênfase é na mudança do papel do setor público como agente de uma gestão pública mais eficiente. O governo federal, espelhado na experiência bem sucedida do sistema integrado de administração financeira (SIAFI), decidiu criar um grande sistema de informação que permite que todos os gestores públicos tenham as informações financeiras necessárias a produção de informações de custo nas dimensões institucional (unidades Administrativas) e programática (por programa de governo), porém com a flexibilidade para definir centros de custos e atividades em um nível mais detalhado de acordo com as especificidades e necessidades de cada entidade.

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February 14, 2011

Brazil: Challenges in Implementing a Costing System for the Public Sector

By Victor Holanda and Mario Pessoa

As part of the public management reforms in Brazil, the federal government implemented in 2010 an innovative cost information system (SIC) in the public sector. A major goal is to improve budget allocation decisions but it is early days to see any tangible results. The emphasis of the system is on improving the efficiency of the public sector by changing the behavior of the public sector managers. The federal government, following the successful implementation of the integrated financial management information system (SIAFI) providing budgetary data, has created a large information system that allows all public sector managers to produce cost information according to two dimensions: institutional (administrative units); and programmatic (government programs), but with the flexibility to define cost centers and activities at a more detailed level according to the peculiarities and needs of each public entity.

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December 30, 2010

A Wealth of Information

Posted by Tim Irwin

The US federal government has recently issued its financial report for the year ending September 2010. As in earlier years, the report fails to get a clean bill of health from its auditor, the GAO (and on a superficial note isn’t typeset and formatted with the care that might be thought appropriate for the report of the world’s largest reporting entity). But it is also extremely impressive for the kind of information it contains, including—among much else—an accrual-based measure of the fiscal deficit to supplement the mainly cash-based budget measures, a balance sheet, and a statement of social insurance, showing an estimate of the net present cost of projected cash flows for Social Security and Medicare. For the first time, the report also includes comprehensive 75-year fiscal projections, which take account of not just social insurance but all government spending and revenue.

As for the numbers, the accrual deficit is $2.1 trillion, compared to $1.4 trillion for the cash-based budget deficit. Net worth is a negative $13.5 trillion, compared with negative $11.5 trillion the year before. The estimated net present cost of social insurance (on which GAO this year declined to express an opinion) is $30.8 trillion, a reduction of $15.0 trillion compared to the previous year—“much of this decrease” being “attributable to the estimated effects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on the Medicare program.” There is much to analyze and discuss in this report in the coming months.

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December 21, 2010

Korea Hosts International Workshop on Fiscal Policy Issues

Posted by Ian Lienert

Against the backdrop of a severe fiscal crisis in some European countries, the Korean Institute of Public Finance (KIPF) hosted an International Fiscal Experts Forum in early December 2010. A major aim was to promote an exchange of views on fiscal policy issues, countries’ responses to the crisis, and relevant issues for Korea. The workshop brought together a number of prominent speakers, scholars, and practitioners from various countries. The topics covered included: fiscal policies after the crisis, budget performance management, accrual accounting, the impact of the crisis on subnational governments, and recent issues in legal frameworks for budget systems.

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December 10, 2010

The “Accounting First” Approach to PFM Reform Sequencing: The Case of the Democratic Republic of Congo

Posted by Franck Bessette

In a recent and much commented on PFM blog post, Sanjay Vani introduced what could be called the “Accounting First” approach to PFM reform sequencing. The naming is a reference to the widely-known “Basics First” approach to PFM sequencing originated by Allen Schick. The “Accounting First” hypothesis is this: NO significant PFM reforms are likely to succeed unless a robust and functioning accounting and reporting system is in place. This approach is bound to be controversial as there is a strong body of opinion among PFM experts that the budget formulation process is the core of any well-functioning PFM system, as it necessitates high value inputs, strategic thinking and coordination between various actors, and constitutes the channel through which policies have a chance to be implemented. In comparison, public accounting is often considered a low-value activity, passive by nature and void of any strategic function. It is even sometimes considered that some good software could take care of it all. In 1995, A. Premchand could write “although government accounting has existed for more than two millennia, it has not received its due. In fact, accounting has been looked down upon and viewed by nonusers as a set of archaic rules that have long since ceased to be relevant or effective.” This viewpoint is probably still prevalent today.

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August 04, 2010

Sustainability Reporting: Can the Triple Bottom Line Thrive in the Public Sector?

Posted by Dimitar Vlahov

It’s common knowledge that today’s global economy is facing multiple challenges and imbalances. From the recent financial crisis, to concerns about distribution of wealth, to the ever-more-dangerous clashes between economy and environment, there are many reasons to pause and examine the whole system. Some experts have suggested that a large chunk of this ill condition can be attributed to the same cause – the problem of bad performance measurement. Businesses and governments alike, the argument goes, have been employing short-sighted measures of success that do not account for all medium- and long-term consequences of their organizations’ activities. Therefore, they need to expand their reporting to include social and environmental indicators of performance, and not just financial ones. With a better warning system, many of the present-day issues could be mitigated or avoided altogether. This post serves as a basic introduction to this approach and its main applications to date.

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June 28, 2010

Interactive Financial Data and XBRL: the Way Forward?

Posted by Dimitar Vlahov 

Today’s means of exchanging financial data have entered a process of global synchronization and standardization. Intuitively, this makes sense given the interconnected and interdependent nature of economic and business entities around the world, coupled with advances in computing power. In practice, the trend is evidenced by the rapid spread of XBRL, a novel set of programming rules for recording and reporting financial data electronically. Over the last several years this new freely-available open standard has been employed by more than 550 major companies, organizations and governments, including many central banks, finance ministries, the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB), the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and the Tokyo Stock Exchange. A Forbes report estimates that XBRL encoding is used by companies representing more than 75% of the world's market capitalization. So popular has XBRL become that one can now even buy “XBRL for Dummies” on Amazon. This note provides a quick account of what XBRL is and why it is relevant for public financial management.

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