Home Articles PUBLIC SECTOR: Do you follow that which is not written?

PUBLIC SECTOR: Do you follow that which is not written?

Do you balance, and report on, your books and accounts daily and monthly, as relevant? Most professionals will see this question as trivial, as we would have no option but to do that. The professional practice of accounting dictates that we do that, even though one is unlikely to find an accounting standard that prescribes that “by sunset every day, ensure that all cash receipts are deposited”. In the absence of such a standard, every professional approaches their work, understanding that if they were to get their annual reporting done excellently, they would need to get their quarterly, monthly and daily reporting done with the same discipline.

This obvious statement is one that needs no further motivation among professional accountants in most industries. Yet, when faced with this need, some public sector accounting practitioners remain unconvinced or evasive. This then has serious consequences on the quality of financial and performance reporting and compliance.

We are familiar with the debate around a rules-based versus a principles-based approach to accounting. This debate also features in other aspects of daily life, for example the dress code which says “dress professionally” compared to the dress code that defines the colour, shape and length of every piece of clothing. Both dress codes achieve similar outcomes, but through different approaches. We face this question in our work in the public sector, when we look for that which we expect to find, because it is the normal thing to; and instead find that it has not been done, because there isn’t a rule or directive prescribing that it should be done.

This is a fair argument, where the matter under discussion is not a foundational issue, but it is not a helpful debate, when the matters under discussion are considered core to the practice of accounting.

The appeal is therefore that within the disciplines of good financial management and reporting, performance reporting, and compliance with laws and regulations, attention is given by professional accountants, their teams and their leaders to the habit of following the (unwritten) rule of attending to all work diligently on a daily and monthly basis. It is the simple secret or foundation on which the more complex end-of-period accounting judgements, estimates and disclosures are based.


The public sector, according to some estimates, accounts for about a third of the South African economy. SAICA members, in their various roles, have many points of contact within the public sector, too many to list here. It is therefore pleasing to welcome this initiative of SAICA to communicate directly with its membership and broader public on matters dedicated to the public sector. The Auditor-General of South Africa believes that our partners across the broad spectrum of South African citizens share our interest in building confidence through the work we each do; and we are therefore encouraged by the focus SAICA is giving to this.

The content of this publication should interest all those that are employed full time in the public sector, students and academics, civil society organisations, those charged with governance and oversight, auditors and other professionals, and citizens at large. We hope that in time this interest will translate into valuable enhancements and improvements on how the public sector is managed.

Author: Imran Vanker