Valuations in the Public Sector
Are we seeing tangible steps towards an international consensus?
The International Public Sector Accounting Standards Board (IPSASB) develops financial reporting standards for public sector entities (IPSAS). Some may wonder why these are needed when there are the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) which are now used or recognised in nearly 150 countries around the World. However, problems can arise in trying to apply IFRS to organisations that exist not to generate financial returns for investors but to provide public services, many of which are not directly cash generating. The IPSAS are based on the principles in IFRS but with necessary adaptations to reflect matters that are particular to the public sector.
One of the main difficulties in applying IFRS to the public sector is around measurement, and in particular valuation. Like the private sector, public sector entities have assets and liabilities but the question of how the benefit of these should be measured in the financial statements has proved an intractable problem. There is very little consistency between countries on either what types of asset or liability should be included in public sector accounts, and when they are, whether they are measured on the basis of what they cost to provide or on some form of current value.
Why does this matter? Unlike companies where an obligation to report performance consistently is necessary for investor information and regulatory oversight, governments are sovereign and can set the rules to suit their circumstances. However, since governments also borrow in the financial markets, the integrity of their public accounts is becoming a matter of increasing concern. As long ago as 2013 the IMF published a paper that highlighted significant discrepancies between the approaches taken by goverments to valuing their non financial assets which concluded that improving the consistency and transparency about the extent and value of assets would improve economic management.
In April 2019 the IPSAS Board issued a consultation paper for a possible new standard on Measurement to examine various measurement bases and provide guidance on their application. We submitted comments on this, which can be seen below.
In April 2021 the Board issued four Exposure Drafts ED 76, 77, 78 and 79 on related measurement issues. These are substantial documents that we have yet to digest but fortunately the closing date for comments is not until 25 October 2021. We are aiming to respond and will update this page with our comments.
To ensure that the proposals for valuation are not only technically correct but also address the range of challenges that are faced when a request is received to place a value on a publicly owned asset or liability, it is important that the wider valuation profession engages with these proposals.