Accounting standard-setting in South Africa - past practices and proposed reform : is public accountability strengthened?

12 December 2007

This article deals with various public accountability issues. It comments on the need for public accountability and briefly describes the concept. It then elaborates on an approach or conceptual framework for improving public accountability, particularly in developing countries. Once this framework has been set, the second part of the article focuses on accounting standards and establishes the relationship between accounting practices and the accounting standard-setting process. It highlights public ownership of a territory which is traditionally claimed by accountants and certain of their private bodies. An examination of the accounting standard-setting process in South Africa reveals deficiencies which impede the process from producing products that advance accountability and that are socially acceptable. The last part comments on reform initiatives as contained in the Proposed Financial Reporting Bill. These initiatives claim to advance and strengthen the accountability framework and to address "serious problems" associated with South Africa's accounting standard-setting process and present accounting practices. The article concludes that serious reform is necessary to address the shortcomings identified. Contrary to institutional opinion, these reform initiatives will have to be directed not at those labeled to be guilty of creative accounting practices or non-compliance with GAAP, but rather at the accounting standard-setting process and the institutions that have arrogated this process to produce current accounting standards. The reform processes will have to be based on public interest perspectives that incorporate as the clearly stated objective the advancement of public accountability.