International Public Sector Accounting Standards Board (IPSASB) – A Round-Up

In January this year, the IPSASB issued a consultation on their Strategy and Work Plan 2019-2023. The consultation paper provides an interesting round-up of IPSASB's current activity as well as a description of the projects they intend to work on over the next five year period.  

Putting IPSASBs activity into context, the overarching strategic objective proposed for 2019-23 is: Strengthening PFM globally through increasing adoption of accrual-based IPSAS.  

This objective will be delivered through two main areas of activity:  

  1. Developing IPSAS and other high quality financial reporting guidance for the public sector; and  
  2. Raising awareness of IPSAS and the benefits of their adoption 

The primary area of focus will continue to be the setting of public sector specific standards. The current projects that are still ongoing are: social benefits, non-exchange expenses, public sector measurement, heritage and infrastructure assets.  

The work plan proposes to add the following projects to the list of public sector specific issues: Natural Resources, Discount Rates, Differential Reporting (‘IPSAS light’) and Conceptual Framework limited-scope review.  

There are further ongoing projects to maintain IFRS convergence, these are: financial instruments (IFRS 9), revenue (IFRS 15) and leases (IFRS 16).  

There is no doubt that the proposed projects are all worthy, but there is some concern about how deliverable the work plan is given the limited resources (eight full time staff, with support network of volunteers). The heavy backlog of unfinished projects can’t be ignored and expectations may need to be managed. Given that IPSASB only meet four times a year, there will be a total of 22 meetings (two left in 2018) by the end of 2023. By that time, at least 12 projects need to be signed off (if work plan is to be met) – on average one at every other meeting, which seems very challenging.  

Whilst acceptance of IPSASs are growing, direct take-up remains very low with only New Zealand coming close to having adopted all the IPSASs as they stand. Most other countries only use IPSASs as a reference point. These standards would benefit from a revolution in take-up, similar to when the EU decided to make IFRS mandatory for listed companies. It is disappointing that the EU’s review into the suitability of IPSASs resulted in the creation of EPSAS (yes, the same as IPSAS but with European rather than International up front).  

Whether the EPSAS project really gets going (there is strong German resistance) and whether IPSAS can get more traction around the world over the next five years will be of as much significance as the completion of the above mentioned projects, if not more.