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Public Sector Accounting and Auditing (PSAA) in Francophone Sub-Saharan Countries: Context, Practices and Implications for the African Professionalisation Initiative 

This report, in collaboration with the African Accounting & Finance Association (AAFA), and authored by Dr Philippe Lassou (University of Guelph) and Professor Teerooven Soobaroyen (University of Essex), examines the institutional framework, national structures/institutions, and educational infrastructure pertaining to public sector accounting and auditing (PSAA) practices in Francophone Sub-Saharan African countries. This directly follows from the African Professionalisation Initiative’s (API) mandate and activities to increase professional PSAA capacity in the public sector with a view to strengthen Public Value Management systems, which in turn, will promote value creation, fiscal discipline, effective resource allocation and effective service delivery to citizens.

While there is emerging evidence around PSAA practice in Anglophone settings, there are far less documented insights on Francophone settings, bearing in mind how the institutional, legislative, and regulatory systems have tended to develop from French traditions and influence; even so after independence. It is in this light that the API capacity building approach is looking at ways and strategies towards adapting it to the relevant linguistic, and institutional political contexts. Undertaking this study is thus a key step in addressing the Francophone context.

The project involved fieldwork in four countries: Three from the UEMOA (or WAEMU)[1] region (Benin, Niger and Togo); and one from the CEMAC (EMCCA)[2] region (Cameroon). We collected a number of relevant educational, regulation, legislative, and practice-related documents (e.g., Directives, curricula, training programmes, courses assessments and evaluations) to understand the key features of PSAA framework and practice, and how knowledge and skills are imparted to students and practitioners. At the same time, the availability and completeness/timeliness of the documentation was challenging, and its content did not always reflect the realities on the ground. We therefore relied on a number of interviews with practitioners from different occupational groups (e.g., public accountants or Comptables publics, auditors or Conseillers/Vérificateurs, general inspectors or Inspecteurs Généraux) as well as educators (university professors and adjunct instructors from practice) and policymakers. In total we interviewed seventy-six (76) individuals in the four countries.

In terms of key features, we explain the different UEMOA and CEMAC Directives underpinning PSAA and how these Directives are adopted in the different member countries. We highlight the different elements of the PSAA framework (code of transparency, budget laws, general regulation of public accounting, budget nomenclature, accountancy plan of the state, state’s financial operation statistics, accounting for inventories and non-current assets). We then emphasise the role of different institutions ranging from the supra-national to national/local ones in enacting these Directives. For example, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), through its AFRITAC[3] regional office, was highly involved in drafting the revised 2011 CEMAC Directives. We also explain how the Ministry of Finance, national Parliaments and Court of Accounts, amongst others, are engaged in transposing the Directives in national and subnational contexts, and the challenges of doing so. In addition, we also detail the existence of the distinct occupational groups (known as Corps), each with very specific functions and responsibilities within the PSAA landscape. A ‘Corps’ is often structurally recognized by a formal decree, and entry requirements at each level of the Corps and progression to the next level are prescribed in regulatory or legislative texts. There are therefore clear lines of demarcation between these different Corps which somewhat challenge the very concept of a single public sector accounting profession.

These differences are largely reflected in the educational system and training programmes. Entry into these occupations largely occurs through a specialist institute owned by ministries such as the Ministry of Finance, the Prime Minister Office (e.g., Niger, Togo) or is part of an academic institution (e.g., Benin). The relevant qualifications awarded by these institutes are set out in the regulatory and legislative texts although there is scope for holders of equivalent qualifications to be eligible to join these occupations. For example, the Ecole Nationale d’Administration (ENA) of Togo offers postgraduate, undergraduate and continuous professional development programmes that train public accountants (Trésoriers or Comptables Publics), Tax Inspectors (Inspecteurs des Impôts) and Inspectors (Contrôleurs/Inspecteurs). The teachers on these programmes are mostly practitioners from the public sector supported by a small cadre of academic educators. While there is some evidence of a curriculum being somewhat regularly updated, in others cases the content, quality of the programmes and profile of teachers need reform and improvement. In all the four countries that were studied, the involvement of private sector accounting institutions (e.g., professional accountancy organisations, commonly referred to as PAOs) is barely noticeable due to the separation of the public and private sector accounting. Notwithstanding, some of the specialist institutes would be keen to collaborate with the API in terms of embedding learning materials, resources, and approaches into their programmes. We contend that attempting to embed PSAA reforms in the same way as in the Anglophone context is not merely an exercise of linguistic translation or addressing semantic differences. Instead, reforms need to address, or engage with, the existing institutional and professional groupings, which we outline in this report.

Based on the above, we identify opportunities for engagement with multiple professional and academic organisations towards a gradual embedding of the API’s framework and learning materials in Francophone African settings. This can be achieved through, for example, the launching of formal academic programmes and/or by relying on continuous development programme (CPD) schemes. Such steps will be valuable in providing opportunities, space, and synergies in enhancing public financial management (PFM) outcomes i.e., ultimately the goal of the API. Admittedly, there are risks in terms of the political willingness and/or resource availability of local players in initiating collaborations and in sustaining capacity building programmes on PSAA.  In conclusion, while we see merit for the API and its partners to instigate agreements to collaborate at the highest (regional) level (e.g., UEMOA), we also appreciate that the best examples/experiences and outcomes come from the field. To this extent, there is merit for the API to explore and initiate field-level partnerships with public sector practitioner organisations and training/educational institutions in target countries to showcase what could be achieved.

[1] l’Union économique et Monétaire Ouest Africaine (UEMOA) i.e. West African Monetary and Economic Union (WAEMU)

[2] Communauté Économique des États de l’Afrique Centrale (CEMAC) i.e. Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (EMCCA).

[3] Africa Regional Technical Assistance Centre.

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