G20 weak over rebuilding trust in public sector, says IFAC chief

19 Sep 16

The G20 did not make strong enough commitments towards rebuilding public trust and integrity in government and public sector institutions, IFAC chief executive Fayez Choudhury has told PF.

Before the meeting of the leaders of the world’s most powerful economies in Hangzhou, China, in early September, IFAC called for the group to act to help restore the public’s faltering confidence in governments.

It urged the G20 to promote stronger governance and better public financial management, including adherence to standards like IPSAS, as well as new, broader methods of public disclosure, such as integrated reporting.

However, Choudhury said IFAC was concerned that, despite the promising consensus on many issues at the conference, “a lack of public trust and increasing nationalist sentiments in many parts of the world could derail these intentions at the national level, as they have done before”.

He added: “Putting trust and integrity at the heart of the global economy is critical. While committing to more cohesive growth strategies, paragraph eight of the G20 communiqué says ‘much more needs to be done’. We agree.”

Some of the themes from IFAC’s call for action did feature in the communiqué. These mostly related to stronger economic and financial governance, and included commitments to financial transparency and continued international cooperation on tax avoidance and corruption.

However, mentions of the public sector were notably absent. Speaking to PF before the summit, Choudhury said governments often failed to hold themselves to the high standards that they applied to the private sector.

Because the public sector is funded by taxpayers, who have little say in where their money is spent, Choudhury argued the burden of ensuring transparency and accountability was greater than in the private sector.

Amid a public backlash reflected in events such as the UK’s Brexit vote and the success of populist figures like US presidential candidate Donald Trump, Choudhury stressed that the public sector could no longer afford this accountability mismatch.

“That is one of the winds of change that’s coming – the issue of a lack of trust in governments has growing momentum around the world,” he warned.

Choudhury also said strong public finance management and good governance could prevent intergenerational spending inequalities and improve decision making.

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