Professional accountant skill sets essential to effectively tackle global infrastructure gap: Report

The successful planning and oversight of infrastructure projects require the skills and expertise of professional accountants, according to a new report prepared jointly by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) and the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada (CPA Canada).

Toronto, June 19, 2019 – The successful planning and oversight of infrastructure projects require the skills and expertise of professional accountants, according to a new report prepared jointly by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) and the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada (CPA Canada).

How accountants can bridge the global infrastructure gap, highlights the critical roles professional accountants can play in ensuring the public sector maximizes the return for its taxpayer-funded infrastructure investments.

Among its key findings:

  • Accountants can play a critical role in closing the infrastructure gap by improving the selection, financing and delivery of infrastructure projects;
  • Governments must have the right professional team in place to harness the benefits of additional investment while working to mitigate the significant risks associated with infrastructure projects;
  • There is a palpable need for whistle-blowing legislation and a professionalized government finance function in order to meet infrastructure requirements.

Infrastructure is critical for economic and social development around the world. From the transportation networks that enable people and goods to move around safely and effectively, to the utility systems providing power and services essential to survival – these systems rely heavily on investments and funding.

The term ‘global infrastructure gap’ identifies the difference between infrastructure investment needed and the resources available to meet that need. According to analysis from Global Infrastructure Hub, in 2018 alone, the investment gap grew by over $400 billion and it is set to grow to a staggering $14 trillion by 2040.

Forces such as demographics, rising cyber threats, urbanisation and climate change are all increasing the global demand for quality infrastructure. Around the world, national, regional and local governments are making investment decisions to serve the public and play a critical role in building and maintaining important infrastructure.

However, there are impediments to successfully building infrastructure. Respondents from a survey of a total of 3,611 CPA Canada members and ACCA members globally identified three major barriers to meeting the infrastructure needs of their respective countries. These were:

  • Lack of political leadership (52 per cent);
  • Lack of funding (49 per cent); and
  • Planning and regulatory barriers (40 per cent).

ACCA’s head of public sector policy, Alex Metcalfe, says: “Solving the infrastructure puzzle is crucial to achieving a better more sustainable future for all, as it tackles global issues such as inequality, poverty and climate change.

“The accountant is well-placed to tackle many of the major challenges humanity faces in the 21st century and beyond.”

Davinder Valeri, Director Strategy, Risk and Performance at CPA Canada says: “Accounting is central to successful decision-making and professional accountants can provide relevant analysis and guidance, especially when it comes to building accountability into the process. Having an accountants’ skills and perspectives on an infrastructure project team can mean the difference between success and failure.”

The report offers 20 recommendations to close the infrastructure gap. Some other key recommendations include:

  • Governments should enforce effective whistle-blowing legislation and professionalise the public sector finance function to allow public servants to challenge unethical behaviour and practices that can disrupt infrastructure projects.
  • Governments should direct supreme audit institutions to monitor the interaction of off-balance sheet liabilities and fiscal targets in order to improve the efficient allocation of public sector funds.
  • Governments should adopt full accrual accounting and maintain a public sector balance sheet to support decision-making on infrastructure policies.
  • Governments should also separate expenditure on projects to report both maintenance and new project spending.
  • Accountants should advise on the distributional impact and regional growth outcomes of selecting particular projects.