25 and (not) counting

17 Dec 13
Ian Ball

Public officials need a New Year Resolution to start adopting transparent global accounting practices. The former chief executive of the International Federation of Accountants remembers 25 of the best excuses he’s heard for not doing the right thing

Christmas is coming, and public coffers are not getting fat. So here are some reasons for public officials and politicians to stick their heads under their duvets, and ignore all that boring old advice to account for the resources that governments borrow or extract through taxation

1.    They cannot go bankrupt
2.    They can always raise more taxes
3.    Their debt is risk-free
4.    Timely financial information is not required, because no decisions are based on it
5.    It costs too much to implement a proper accounting system
6.    Politicians are not intelligent enough to understand financial statements
7.    Voters do not need to understand their government’s financial position and performance
8.    Voters are not intelligent enough to understand financial statements
9.    Credit rating agencies do not need financial statements to assess credit risk
10.    Governments do not have the staff resources needed to produce financial statements
11.    Economic statistics do not need to be based on reliable accounting information
12.    Economists do not understand accrual accounting
13.    Public services can be delivered efficiently without knowing what they cost
14.    Governments have always managed their finances well without proper accounting
15.    Governments can always legislate to address financial difficulties
16.    Investors in sovereign debt do not need protection
17.    Government-owned assets are not for sale
18.    Only cash matters, other assets and liabilities are not important
19.    Large governments are too complex to account properly
20.    Small governments do not have the resources to account properly
21.    The current generation will be happy to pay the pensions of the old folk
22.    Public servants will be happy to forgo their pensions if it is necessary to maintain public services
23.    Financial systems that make corrupt behaviour more difficult are not needed as governments always act in the public interest
24.    Events outside their control, for which they cannot be held accountable, can have an impact on a government’s financial position
25.    If they do get into financial difficulties, Christmas is coming.

Here’s to a happy and prosperous 2014!

Ian Ball is chairman of CIPFA International and was chief executive of the International Federation of Accountants from 2002 to 2013

  • Ian Ball
    Ian Ball

    Professor of Public Financial Management at Victoria University of Wellington and emeritus chair of CIPFA International

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