Make sure public sector retains finance talent, says African Union chief

25 Sep 18

The public sector accountancy profession needs to be made more attractive to ensure that young talent stays and helps countries develop, an African Union director has said.

Accountants are “key players” and help provide sustainability and growth in fragile states, but there is a lack of capacity Assietou Sylla Diouf, director of the programming, budgeting, finance and accountancy directorate at the African Union told CIPFA’s international conference.

Those who are trained professionals often go to the private sector for more money, she said.

“It’s a big issue and as donors we spend a lot of money for people to get the skills and then go off to the private sector.”

“Let’s make the public sector better – let’s make sure it’s attractive,” Diouf said.

Session chair Vincent Tophoff, former International Federation of Accountants lead on public financial management, said: “In fragile states, all the efforts we put in to develop capacity may not have the full effect if quite a few of those people walk away to the private sector or abroad.”

Annually $1.3bn is spent on PFM, including capacity building, but some of the reforms are not successfully delivered. This “is a waste”, Simon Gill, acting managing director of the Overseas Development Institute told the session.

“It’s a scarce resource that is not effectively being spent. It is wasting taxpayers’ money and not making a difference in the countries that we want to help. So, it is urgent that we do it better,” he said.

But he added that accountants would always move between sectors.

“Just keep training people and train the best,” Gill said.

Fragile states are those with low or no resources, poor governance, political instability and lack of security. They are often also riddled with conflict.

One delegate suggested that PFM should be outsourced to the private sector in those countries where there is little capacity in the public sector.

Gill also observed that ‘best practices’ in developed countries may not work for fragile states, for example accrual accounting.  

He added that accountants and other public finance professionals should take the national context into account and reflect on whether these practices will be applicable and whether the capacity is there.  

“Don’t go in with a pre-planned plan of what needs doing because it may not be the most appropriate,” he said.

“We often overload governments with so many things that it tumbles over. We need to address the basics first.

“It is challenging and we need to remember that we are working with people with their own pressures on them. It’s not just about systems and processes.”


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