Accountants need to step out of ‘techy bubble’ to achieve SDGs

24 Sep 18

Finance professionals should step out of their “technical bubble” if they want to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, an Overseas Development Institute director has urged. 


Simon Gill

ODI’s Simon Gill talking at the CIPFA international conference


Simon Gill, ODI’s acting managing director, told delegates at CIPFA’s international conference in Abu Dhabi that good governance and the SDGs were “a wicked problem”.

The problem was, he said, “very complex” and one that could not simply be solved by “a straight forward logical approach”.

He said: “You can’t just sit in your technical bubble and hope you are going to make an impact.”

Gill added: “If all that you address are fellow auditors or fellow accountants, you are not going to help your country or the world address the wicked problems that we have.”

Vivi Niemenmaa, national expert on sustainability at the European Court of Auditors, also told delegates: “SDGs are really at the heart of good governance”.

“There are no SDGs without good governance,” she said, at a session called ‘good governance delivering sustainable development goals’.

Niemenmaa added that achieving the SDGs requires a ‘whole-of-government approach’ and long-term perspective, which poses a challenge for auditors who are used to looking at what has already happened.

But Khalid Hamid, executive director at the State Audit Institution in the UAE, also said that auditors are often left out of the dialogue surrounding the SDGs.

He said that auditors should be part of the conversation and “not just hide behind reports”, which is a challenge and requires innovative thinking.

“It requires a more intelligent way of talking to politicians. We [auditors] can’t be telling everyone what they should be doing if we can’t walk the talk,” he added.

Accountants and auditors needed to engage with other professions more, particularly those in politics who make the decisions, the panel also agreed. 

This included making financial information useful for non-finance professionals to use and working with statistical offices to better measure progress.

“Supreme audit institutions are often an afterthought and brought into the dialogue behind the scenes, but there is more we can offer because we know what is going on, on the ground,” Hamid said.

Gill also asked the conference why accountants and auditors are those setting the standards for the profession, if it is addressing bigger issues. “Maybe we should be much more multi-disciplinary in our standard setting,” he suggested. 

Peter Welch, director of ECA and chair of the panel, also said at the end of the session: “It’s important to remember that there is probably an SDG aspect to any audit that you are doing and we should mainstream the consideration of SDGs to our work.”

The International Monetary Fund said today poorer countries need to collectively spend an extra $520bn a year on key public services and infrastructure if they are going to meet the SDGs

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