Bringing in IPSAS needs strong skills

29 Sep 16

Building staff capability and capacity globally will be key if countries are to adopt accruals-based accounts that comply with international standards

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Gaborone, Botswana: the country is investing in training so it can implement IPSAS successfully Photo: Alamy

 

It is widely acknowledged that the adoption of the International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS) supports economic development and prosperity. Equally, financial reports based on these standards support accountability, transparency and ultimately value for money of public funds.

Given the pace of change and the size of expenditure in the public sector, it is critical that finance employees in public services are equipped with the right skills and competencies to deal with the challenges before adopting and implementing IPSAS.

Increasingly, countries around the world are adopting IPSAS as a basis for preparing their financial reports. From Malaysia to Tanzania, governments are making huge strides in compiling IPSAS-based accounts and, with this change, they are making substantial investments in upskilling staff responsible for the implementation of IPSAS.

However, while significant improvements are being made by many governments, others still need to make much more progress. While the overall direction of travel towards a single set of global standards for the public sector is positive, the scale of change needed should not be underestimated.

Successful implementation of IPSAS goes hand in hand with finance employees developing the financial reporting skills they will need to make IPSAS implementation much more likely to be a success story. The development of these skills also makes for a stronger finance function within public entities, which is a necessary component of improving the quality and robustness of financial information. The best in class, such as New Zealand and Australia, have realised improvements in financial reporting over a number of years. In the UK, the quality and transparency of financial information has improved immensely since it began its journey to accruals accounting nearly two decades ago.

Whether you are the government of Botswana or Columbia, if you are planning to move to IPSAS, it is critical to upskill staff to achieve strong public financial management and to demonstrate you realise the importance of having high-quality information available for delivering good service outcomes.

Recognising the importance of building capacity to support the implementation of IPSAS, the government of Botswana is investing in training its employees to improve the way they manage and report on public finances, in particular to ensure the successful implementation of IPSAS.

Countries choosing to adopt IPSAS are hungry to learn from the practical experiences of those that have introduced the standards or are about to complete their implementation programmes. They want to know how some of the technical difficulties were overcome in areas such as valuing assets or estimating long-term liabilities. Equally, they want to know about how best to project manage the whole process of making a transition to accruals accounting, which includes skills development and achieving culture change.

History tells us that building capacity and capability is vital to the success of any IPSAS implementation plan no matter where you are in the world. Without a trained workforce, public entities are less likely to succeed whereas, with a highly trained workforce, considerable improvements can be made in the quality of financial information on which policymakers base their decisions and set their priorities.

Although the demand for training is in the ascendancy in many countries, the challenge is to keep this momentum going.

In response to high demand from the public sector, an IPSAS certificate and IPSAS diploma developed by CIPFA for finance staff who want to develop their public sector financial reporting skills using IPSAS and/or become experts can be found at: www.cipfa.org/qualifications/ipsas

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