CAs(SA) in the public sector ensure accounting professionalism, integrity, objectivity, professional competence and due care, confidentiality and professional behaviour, says Jeanine Poggiolini
The unprecedented policy measures taken by governments around the world during the COVID-19 pandemic underscore the importance of public sector entities in society and the economy.
According to the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC), public sector accounting plays a crucial role in ensuring accountability, transparency and trust. In addition, accounting is extremely important when it comes to reforms in the public sector.
These are views shared by Jeanine Poggiolini, CEO at the Accounting Standards Board (ASB), who considers modern public sector accounting vital. It enables the management of funds that allows authorities to closely monitor their spend, reduce the risk of overspending and prevent unauthorised expenditure.
When Poggiolini began her studies, she did not have a set goal in mind. ‘My strength lay in languages but because I was not sure of what I wanted to do I signed up for a Bachelor of Accounting Science degree at Unisa and made it all the way to Honours. I can’t say it happened by accident, because I believe everything happens for a reason. I enjoyed my studies, particularly the more technical aspects of the accounting profession – more so than the practical components. To this day my interests lie in the philosophy of accounting and what that entails.’
She completed her articles at PwC, staying on for an additional year as a manager. During this period, her greatest aspiration was to be a banker. ‘If you’re going to be a CA(SA), you might as well be a great one – that was my thinking at the time, and banking seemed to be the right career choice,’ she recalls.
While doing her articles she completed her first audit at Unisa. It was 2001 and the university was implementing an electronic accounting system for the first time, migrating from fund accounting to statements of GAAP.
‘I had no idea what fund accounting was, nor did I think it was possible to run a university the size of Unisa using manual accounting records. It was inconceivable to me that financial management practices like this existed. Over my three years of articles, more of these stories emerged,’ Poggiolini says.
She continued her work with state-owned enterprises, parastatals and other public entities, and the lack of understanding of what accounting meant, coupled with the need for modernisation in those entities, had a profound impact on her career goals.
‘When the time came to think about my future, it was clear to me that the world did not need another banker. I wanted to do something that would make a difference and contribute to building a democratic South Africa. This is where my involvement with both the public sector and – more specifically – public sector accounting and reporting began.’
Two years after completing her articles, she joined the Accounting Standards Board (ASB) as a project manager and went on to become the technical director in 2015. This has allowed her to contribute her expertise locally and globally.
In her role at the ASB − which she describes as an incredible place to work if you want to constantly learn new things and grow your career − she has become a true thought leader, playing a seminal role in driving the public sector’s thinking forward.
Poggiolini has been involved in developing and contributing to public sector accounting in various capacities, commenting on standards, developing standards and participating in various roles on standard-setting boards from 2004.
She gained practical experience in standard-setting by researching and developing Standards of Generally Recognised Accounting Practice (GRAP) in her role as a standard-setter. This provides her with insight into the detailed competencies and requirements necessary to set standards.
Poggiolini earned her leadership stripes in the standard-setting activities of the ASB by leading and managing a team of standard-setters responsible for research and development activities. She introduced governance to the standard-setting activities of the ASB which did not exist previously by developing policies, procedures and other initiatives necessary to ensure good governance. She also provided strategic thought to the work of the ASB by introducing the development of a three-year stakeholder-led work programme and a related performance management system.
On the global front, she has also Influenced and participated in international standard-setting by serving as a board member of the International Public Sector Accounting Standards Board (IPSASB), being recognised as an industry leader by serving as the deputy chair of the IPSASB in 2015 and 2016 and, more recently, being appointed to the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC), the global advocacy organisation for the accountancy profession.
‘To be relevant, the standard-setting environment needs to adapt to, for example, changing needs, new areas of reporting, and changing stakeholder needs,’ says Poggiolini.
The successful implementation of financial reporting reforms is highly dependent on the strength of finance professionals and others in the public sector.
With her ongoing focus on enhancing public sector financial reporting practices and reform, Poggiolini has been actively involved in many professional bodies (SAICA, SAIPA, CIGFARO, IRBA, IIA, SAIGA), and other stakeholders locally, to ensure that finance professionals and others are aware of the public sector, the ASB and its role, and that members are up to date with technical issues.
‘I also promote the importance of financial reporting and auditing in the public sector through my role at IFAC,’ she adds. ‘This includes ensuring that public sector issues remain front of mind in the profession globally and leveraging connections to advance financial reporting and auditing in South Africa and Africa.’
Many people continue their education for personal development and fulfilment, while others see it as a significant step toward career advancement.
She enjoys her role in the development of staff competencies too and believes that employees should have the ability to gain knowledge and learn new skills throughout their lives. ‘Over the last few years, I have developed, mentored and coached standard-setting staff to be professional, to be able to fulfil their roles as standard-setters, and to meet their personal goals,’ Poggiolini says. ‘This is something I remain committed to in the context of lifelong learning for all people in any organisation – this includes organisations where I serve on audit committees or other committee structures.’
Without a doubt, she says, public sector accounting is in the public interest, for the environment, economy, and society when it comes to preventing corruption and ensuring transparency.
‘Preparing the public sector for a future of constant change requires the support of the accountancy profession,’ says Poggiolini. ‘By providing the complete picture of the state of the government’s finances necessary for strong future fiscal projections, high-quality financial reports based on international accounting standards can help politicians make the right long-term choices for the country. As CAs(SA) we are able to make an enormous contribution to the professionalisation of our public sector.’