As stated above in the history of accounting, there arose a need to standardize the accounting fraternity (Arrow, 1963). This was necessary to assimilate the different cultures, laws, religion and practices. A standard accounting system meant similar accounting procedures anywhere in the country or internationally. The same case applies to the accounting fraternity today, where different departments within a firm, corporation or any kind of business entity, uses different styles of data presentation.
Different departments use different systems of accounting, it is quite impossible to broaden accounting best practices throughout the company. Corporate accounting staff must examine variances and clear errors in the summarized information they receive from divisional accounting staff. This may take a lot of time and thereby, slows the process of account closing. The multitude of different accounting procedures creates a problem in any firm. This consequently creates inconsistencies in the reports that are quite hard to reconcile. The company needs to come up with a solution which would be to implement a common approach or standardized approach to all accounting transactions throughout the company.
Investment decisions are the pillars of any firm that aims at maintaining a good reputation or making profits. Therefore, how affairs concerning the accounting department are handled really matters a lot. A firm where accounting procedures have been standardized within the company has a less probability of messing up. Therefore, standardization of accounting procedures saves time and minimizes errors within the company. Consequently, error free reports allows for sound decision making processes. The standardization of accounting process is independent of any investment decision made, because good accounting reports depend on the accounting officer in-charge.
Overview of the Public Accounting Sector
There are many different types of accounting and public accounting is one of them. Public accounting basically refers to an accounting method applied to non-profit oriented organizations and entities such as the government, for which performance is not determined by the profit margin. The end result produced by the public sector is used for different purposes from that produced by the private accounting sector. Unlike the private sector accounting which uses the flow of economic resources to measure accounting, the public sector uses the flow of financial resources. Good examples of firms that practice public accounting are Pricewaterhouse coopers, Delloite, Ernst & Young and KPMG. These firms are the largest public accounting firms in the world and are commonly referred to as “the big four”. The big four are responsible for auditing major publicly traded companies and also large private corporations. There are those activities that mainly take place in the public accounting sector and some of them are outlined below.
This term can be used to refer to an official examination of financial accounts with the aim of verification and confirmation of the given figures. An audit is normally conducted when a company produces its financial reports and earnings, be it yearly or quarterly. Audits are conducted to confirm that the values put out by the firms in question are correct. This is done to be able to identify those companies that would lie about their assets and figures for selfish reasons such as evading tax.
This refers to Certified Public Accountant. This is a title just like the PhD and there are some qualifications that must be met before the title is acquired. The first condition is that the applicant must complete 150 hours of academic credit at a known college or university. The applicant must also have a one year work experience at an accredited work place. Having qualified that, the applicant can sit for the C.P.A. examinations in order to get a license.
Public accountants are those who have sat for the C.P.A examinations and passed and also received their licenses. They do a variety of jobs some of which include the following: reviewing the financial statements, assessing risks i.e. financial risks, for example, loans, testing the reliability of the system, evaluation of business assets, tax planning and consulting, financial planning, benchmarking against competition, managing of real-time information and Educate/Research. These are some of the responsibilities of a public accountant and if practiced correctly, they would improve the public sector. Public accountants also study a lot in order to stay on the right side of the changing laws.
Measures to Improve the Public Accounting Sector
Public financial management is critical in the process of improving the quality of the public service outcomes. It is important to manage public funds in accordingly, since it builds the trust of the public in public organizations which is a key factor that leads to development. “Good financial management is responsible for not only protecting, developing, using resources, pushing and maintaining economic growth and increasing income, but also managing effectively and efficiently all national resources.”(Thang). Here are some of the measures that could improve the public accounting sector.
Public accounting revolves around auditing. In order to improve the public accounting sector, it is important to make sure the quality of service provided in terms of auditing is the best. Auditing quality can be improved in the following ways:
A switch in focus from output oriented budgeting as opposed to input based budgeting, creation of the database and norms for monitoring and evaluating expenditure and building capacity to enable analysis and study of the impact of policy and resource allocations on beneficiaries.
A step by step change is required in order to meet the above requirements. By improving on the auditing performance quality, the public sector accounting improves in general since public accountants will end up giving more quality services.
Accounting laws and regulations
The public finance act and financial regulations prescribe about the maintenance and compilation of accounts, but they do not mention International Accounting Standards. The Public Finance Act should conform to International Public Sector Accounting Standards (ISPAS). If international standards are maintained, then the quality of service provided by the public accounting sector generally improves.
For better accountability, a modern financial reporting framework is required. The accounting function has been provided in the treasury, but there is no clear separation of duties among departments. The Development of Computerized Accounting System has a tight timeline which requires intensive efforts in order to meet the set targets.
Education and Training
Better opportunities for educating and training government accountants should be developed. Most public accountants are recruited with limited accounting skills due to poor accounting curricula in the learning institutions. The public accountants should be exposed to quality education in order for them to maintain international accounting standards. If their education is improved, then there is no doubt that the public sector accounting will improve.
Public sector accountants need a training program that meets the IFAC- issued International Education Standards (IES) for professional accountants. Considerations should be made in due time to adopt the public sector programs for renown institutes such as the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA). The main advantage of this is that the CIPFA learning materials take into account the international audit and accounting standards which can apply in any given organization. The CIPFA learning materials cover areas such as financial management, law and taxation and information systems management among others.
The responsible ministry should also organize seminars and training sessions for all public accountants for them to learn more about the international standards such as Public Finance Act and Public Financial Regulations.
Code of Ethics
“A code of ethics is needed to improve financial compliance and build the professionalism of the government accounting staff”(Gaylord & Reid, 1997). This is supposed to define the way in which a public accountant should behave while on duty. The current code of conduct has very little relevance to the IFAC code of Ethics for professional accountants. A new code should be developed that is relevant to the IFPAC code so as to maintain international standards and improve the public accounting sector.
Training sessions should be organized to help accountants understand the ethics and how the code ensures proper behavior. Some of the public accountants may be conducting themselves in the wrong manner without their knowledge. It is important to ensure proper conduct at work by providing enough training for accountants before they are let to the public sector and also as they work.
Public Sector Accountant Arrangements
The preparation of financial statements for each ministry requires a system of internal control. It is important for every organization that prepares annual accounts to have a qualified chief financial officer whose function is to maintain the systems of internal financial controls that manage risks, and also prepares the accounts for signature by the chief accounting officer. Audit results are not implemented correctly due to the lack of an officer to implement the findings. The duties of an accounting officer are not defined in the Public Finance Instructions, but they should include the following:
The accounting officer should maintain systems of internal financial controls that manage risks, ensure that accounting and financial approval duties are properly carried out and prepare regular financial accounts and ensure the most appropriate technological support for financial management practices.
The accounting officer should perform his/her duties effectively and that would improve the public sector.
The accounting officer should maintain the chart of accounts.
The accounting officer should assist program managers in developing an effective financial approach to the delivery of expected outcomes.
Setting Public Sector Accounting Standards
More formal administrative actions should be taken by the auditor general to set public sector accounting standards.” The Public Finance Act sets the form of the annual accounts but does not outline clearly the standards required in preparing financial statements” (Bhardwaj, 2002). It is the auditor general’s work to advise the president the Cash Basis ISPAS should be used as the standard when preparing financial statements with a plan to move to full accrual-based reporting over a period of time.
All government bodies should be required to make all audited accounts available to the public. This is to ensure transparency and accountability so that the public can be satisfied, hence, developing trust in the public organizations.
If the above would be practiced in any given organization, then surely the public sector accounting would be transformed and many people would develop trust for the public sector. This would also help the economy of a country to grow since there would be no cases of fraud.
From the above study and discussion, we can give several empirical conclusions with respect to the two accounting dimensions; public accounting and financial reports. The description is based on managerial accountability, fiscal accountability and individual accountability. Financial reporting has an obligation to provide information that is helpful to present and potential investors and creditors and other users in making coherent investment, credit, and other economic decisions. Consequently, any event that is likely to affect a firm’s current financial position or its future performance should be shown in its annual accounts. It is clear that the financial and accounting data is the best index for economic performance of any particular firm. Sound accounting systems and accurate financial reports are best fit to guide the actions and professional conduct of the public officials in the accountancy fraternity. It is also crystal clear that a good democratic government is associated with transparent accounting procedures. A good accounting process should, therefore, emphasize accountability. There is, therefore, a need for the streamlining of the managerial and program accountability. With the standardization of the accounting and accountancy procedures globally, the accounting profession has been greatly improved in efficiency and sufficiency. A qualified public accountant can now practice his/her profession in any part of the world thanks to the standardization of the practice.
The findings and conclusions of the paper necessitated the following recommendations:
- Standardization of other departments closely related to accounting, for example, managerial practices. This would ensure a clear adherence of procedures like the case in accounting and enhance accountability and transparency.
- This paper has come to the conclusion that there exists limited amount of literature (both electronic and printed) on public accounting. It is, therefore, necessary to encourage more scholars to research on this area so as to improve on quality of the already available work.
- The paper also recommends the establishment of governmental accounting standard board to regulate and determine the detailed principle, procedure and standards to operate within the public sector. This would reduce the number of incompetent officers in the accounting sector.