Accruals shift required solid conviction, says Malta’s finance minister

22 Sep 17

Conviction and perseverance are needed to move to an accruals-based accounting system, Malta’s finance minister and former accountant general have told PF

Shifting from a cash-based system can be lengthy, complicated and challenging, and can meet with resistance from employees, Edward Scicluna and Noel Camilleri said.

Finance minister Scicluna announced this summer that the Maltese government had signed a €11.6m deal with consultancy Grant Thornton to begin the process of moving to accruals. This is after nearly 20 years of the country mulling over the move.

“It takes a lot of energy for the person driving it through,” Scicluna said in an exclusive interview with PF. “It’s conviction that can bring it about.”

The finance minister attributed the driving force in Malta to be the “passion” of Camilleri, who he said was his “right-hand” man and was at the time accountant general. Camilleri is now Malta’s deputy auditor general and no longer involved in the accruals project.

Camilleri explained it had been difficult to convince some politicians and then staff, who were faced with getting to grips with a whole new IT system and way of working.

A lot of training is required and it can be “onerous” for the staff, Scicluna said.

Camilleri told PF: “You have to persevere. I was known as the person who would preach accrual accounting in the sector.”

To convince ministers, you had to “attach accrual accounting to what they are trying to do” he said, and you have to show staff you are committed. He held information sessions for them to learn about the changes.

“It was difficult to convince managers and heads of department if they don’t come from an accountancy background,” Camilleri said. “You have to show it will help them in decision making.”

The former accountant general explained what had been needed was the political will to finally make the move over to the accruals accounting system. That came in the form of Scicluna, who became finance minsiter in 2013. 

Both also explained that bringing high-calibre people into the country to advise on adopting accruals-based accountancy was a help. These included Ian Carruthers, who is now chair of the International Public Sector Accounting Standards Board.

Scicluna said being in a good financial position – the country recorded a surplus of €8.8m last year – meant they could bring in “technocrats” they could rely on to help them with complex technical aspects.

On being awarded the accolade of Malta’s most popular minister in a poll conducted by the Malta Independent newspaper in May this year, Scicluna joked it meant he “didn’t have to do so many door-to-door visits” in the run-up to the country’s June election.

This meant he could get his head down and create Malta’s first surplus for 35 years, he told PF

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