The pandemic has put essential public services under immense pressure, and the ACCA Caribbean Public Sector Financial Management Conference 2021, now available to view on demand, heard from a wide range of finance professionals and experts on how the crisis is being tackled through transformation initiatives.

Opening the conference, ACCA President Mark Millar acknowledged those in the public sector whose work does not necessarily generate profit but is ‘priceless’ in sustaining the community. ‘I know that professional accountants understand there is a purpose in what they do for the public good, finding the best value they can for the public purse,’ he said.

Ryan Straughn MP, Minister in the Ministry of Finance, Barbados, outlined his government’s reform plans. He highlighted how, during the country’s ‘national pause’, most employees in the public sector were working from home unless they were providing an essential service direct.

‘For many, this was inconceivable just one year ago,’ Straughn told the conference, adding that, for the foreseeable future, the public sector in the region would have to carry a significant economic burden. ‘Therefore, the more efficient and slender our approach may be and the more effective we can be, the greater the impact we will have on the private economy, and the rest of our citizens will be able to recover faster from the current situation.’

‘The more efficient and slender our approach and the more effective we can be, the greater the impact we will have on the private economy’

Honourable Ashni Singh, Senior Minister in the Office of The President with responsibility for Finance, Cooperative Republic of Guyana, emphasised the role professional accountants played in forecasting and budgeting during times of great uncertainty, as well as in achieving optimal public sector prioritisation, ‘dong more with less’ while balancing long-term objectives with short-term considerations. And he warned  of the need to balance timely execution with adequate financial controls.

Other speakers included Dion Abdool, chair of the board of directors of the Trinidad and Tobago Transparency Institute, who spoke about bribery and corruption in the procurement process as well as the implications of Covid-19 on rapid procurement. Devon Rowe, executive director of the Caribbean Centre for Development Administration, focused on how governments can best contract out services or responsibilities to the private sector in some areas while improving the delivery of core services in other areas.

ACCA head of sustainability Jimmy Greer said he looked forward to a decade of action to achieve the UN’s sustainable development goals. Srinivas Gurazada, head of public expenditure and financial accountability at the World Bank, and ACCA’s head of head of public sector Alex Metcalfe outlined a balance sheet approach to effective management of public sector finances during the pandemic.

Other speakers included Christine Sahadeo, Senior Lecturer at The University of the West Indies (UWI), Dr. Emily Dick-Forde, Manager Special Initiatives, Office of the Principal, UWI Open Campus, Cheryl Clarke, Manager, Resident Audit Office, United Nations and Rachel Bleetman, Public Sector Research and Policy Manager, ACCA.