In The Public Interest: Public Auditing And Accounting

On 27 May 2011, Martin Dees accepted the Chair of Professor of Public Auditing & Accounting at Nyenrode with the delivery of his inaugural lecture entitled “The Public Sector Auditor – The Linking Pin in Public Administration”. Together with Center Manager Jan Droogsma, he also manages the Nyenrode Center for Public Auditing & Accounting. This autumn witnessed the Center's first group of students commence the Certified Public Sector Auditor (CPSA) program, a program that is unique in the Netherlands. Here, Professor Martin Dees explains the field of Public Auditing & Accounting.
 
Martin Dees en Jan Droogsma160-160.jpgThe Certified Public Sector Auditor Program
“The program is intended for anyone offering auditing services at auditing agencies, accountancy firms or audit offices, and who works in, or would like to work in, the public sector”, says Martin Dees. The students include registered accountants (RA), registered IT auditors (RE) and people educated to Master's degree-level in business economics. Next year, we aim to start up a group with students from a non-financial background, such as those with a background in public administration, sociology or psychology. The first group started the course with great enthusiasm and during the introductory session, a student with thirty years’ experience working in public auditing commented: ‘Thanks to this course, a lot of things are finally falling into place.’”
 
Mindset, Knowledge And Tools Of A Robust Public Auditor
He continues: “To be robust within the public sector, you need three things: the right mindset, knowledge and tools. Your mindset should be focused on the purpose of the government: the public interest. In addition to this, you need to be familiar with the institutional environment and how public administration functions. You also need to have knowledge of the various forms of auditing that are relevant to the sector. Yet robustness also requires personal skills, which can be developed through dialog training sessions. Professional skepticism is extremely important, especially in a political environment, where ‘truth’ is a rather liberal concept.” 
 
The Public Auditor Contributes To Citizens’ Happiness
“This robustness we expect from the auditor is the same robustness we expect the government to show”, says Dees. “On the one hand, we do not want the government to absorb too great a share of the national income. Yet, on the other hand, we expect the government to be there if there is a problem. As an auditor, you can add value to good governance by verifying information, but also by directly conducting audits and personally producing reports. Governments that appear to be reliable and stable, that have their financial matters in order and demonstrate clear accountability, contribute to people's well-being. These links have been established by Ruut Veenhoven, Professor of Happiness at Erasmus University Rotterdam.”
 
Performance And Compliance Auditing
“Performance auditing plays an important role in the public domain, focusing on the efficiency and effectiveness of policy and operations, and what you can say about these as an auditor. You need to have the tools that will enable you, for example, to measure whether safety on the street has increased as a result of government action. These are a completely different type of audit to those described in the standards of the Netherlands' Professional Association for Accountants (Nederlandse Beroepsorganisatie van Accountants (NBA)). The importance of compliance auditing, which involves checking whether legislation, regulations and enacted policy are being observed, is also much higher in the public sector. And while in the business world legislation and regulations are criteria, in the public sector the actual functioning of organizations tends to be governed to a much greater extent by legislation and regulations”, explains Dees.
 
Satellite Photos In The Elective
“The Bachelor of Science in Accountancy program's new elective module in Public Auditing also places a great deal of attention on innovation”, he says. “One example of this is the use of geographic information systems, something which came about following the tsunami disaster. By using satellite photos, it is possible to check whether emergency aid is being used for the purposes for which it was intended.”
 
Current Developments
Dees continues: “On 13 December 2011, there an end-of-year meeting will take place at which we will discuss current developments from both a practical and a scientific perspective. These topics will include, for example, the quality of the reports compiled by governments on their EMU balance, in other words their budget deficit and debt. These matters are currently being given much attention due to the crisis in the Eurozone. The International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) has developed a set of International Public Accounting Standards (IPSAS) which the EU has made mandatory for its organizations. Thus far, there has been little pressure for the international IPSAS standards to be adopted as a basis in the Member States too. However, this has now been placed on the agenda after all, partly as a result of the various EMU balance problems.”
 
International Research And An International Professional Association
“The research conducted at the Center is often internationally comparative.” He cites an example: “Over the past ten years, more and more central governments have been making the transition to an accruals system, something which has been a matter-of-course within the business community for a long time now. It is interesting to know how other countries’ governments respond to this and which merits have been demonstrated exactly. We are also internationally oriented when it comes to collaboration: we would like to establish an institute for the registration of graduate public sector auditors which would be designated the European Institute of Certified Public Auditors. This could also serve as a professional platform for the discussion of topical issues in the field.”
 
Rewarding Interaction Between Public And Private
“As a public auditor, you gain an insight into good governance, which involves many different aspects”, claims Dees. “In the field of performance audits, you can employ a wide-ranging arsenal of social science methods. I think that this broad outlook and valuable stock-in-trade is something you can also put to good use in the private sector. That is why, in my opinion, the Center should play a more prominent role in the strategy of Nyenrode. Of course, the opposite is also true. At the opening of the Center, the President of the Court of Audit said that the public sector likes to borrow from the business community, which, under the pressures of profit-seeking, is compelled to innovate and this is something which the public sector can take advantage of.”
 
 
Read Martin Dees's inaugural lecture: “The Public Sector Auditor – The Linking Pin in Public Administration”


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