Thirty and going strong

When we think of 1989, some of us will recall protesters in Tiananmen Square, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the Velvet Revolution in the former Czechoslovakia. But 1989 was also the year of a quieter far-reaching revolution: the establishment of New Zealand’s Public Finance Act.

Professor Ian Ball knows better than most how the Act laid the groundwork for a pioneering public financial management system for which New Zealand is respected around the world.

Now professor of practice–public financial management in the School of Accounting and Commercial Law, Ian was a senior Treasury official between 1987 and 1994 and one of the architects of the Act.

Whether being interviewed about the Act by PhD candidates from the University of Oxford and Harvard University or hosting a recent three-day conference to mark its thirtieth anniversary, he is proud of the transformation the Act wrought.

“The New Zealand Government now has a system of financial management better than any other government in the world and it is known internationally for that,” says Ian.

“What we do is, for many other countries, remarkable, if not impossible. For example, the New Zealand Government publishes monthly financial statements on a normal commercial basis. Most other governments have difficulty doing that annually. Many don’t do it at all.”

Ian—who was chief executive officer of the International Federation of Accountants in New York from 2002 to 2013, and earlier, as chairman of its Public Sector Committee, initiated and led development of International Public Sector Accounting Standards—is now contributing to the University’s research, teaching, and engagement around the Act and other aspects of public financial management.

At the University, and as chair of the Treasury’s Audit Committee for the Government’s financial statements, he continues to provide thought leadership on the Act as it undergoes reform.

“In 1992, the Economist had a whole page on the Public Finance Act and its second-to-last sentence was ‘Time will tell.’ Well, time did tell, and the Act has stood the test of time. Now we need to ensure it is fit for purpose for another 30 years.”