تأملاتی درباره ی منافع عمومی در حسابداری
|کد مقاله||سال انتشار||تعداد صفحات مقاله انگلیسی||ترجمه فارسی|
|299||2008||19 صفحه PDF||25 صفحه WORD|
Publisher : Elsevier - Science Direct (الزویر - ساینس دایرکت)
Journal : Critical Perspectives on Accounting, Volume 19, Issue 7, November 2008, Pages 1080–1098
هدف و ساختار
نوع شناسی کوکران از نظریه های منافع عمومی
تئوری های اصولی
نظریه های فرایند
نظریه های شورایی
نظریه های منافع عمومی: یک پیوستار
بررسی منافع عمومی در حسابداری
منافع عمومی چیست؟
نتیجه گیری و مفاهیم
The expression, ‘the public interest’ is so ingrained in policy development, that reforms in accounting are often championed under the notion that such developments will enhance the well-being of the community. While the public interest is well understood at policy level, at operating level the expression is ambiguous and has a multiplicity of interpretations. Current conceptions of the public interest are inadequate to define a principle which must stand as a measure of public policy. Who exactly is the public, what are the interests of the public, and what does it mean to serve the public interest? Consequently, members of the accounting profession are expected to comply with a principle that is vague and ambiguous. This paper undertakes a critical analysis of the public interest in accounting relying on a typology of public interest theories (normative, consensualist, process, and abolitionist theories) developed by Cochran [Cochran CE. Political science and “the public interest”. The Journal of Politics 1974;36(2):327–55]. The analysis indicates that existing knowledge and understanding of the public interest, is in part, consistent with some aspects of the Cochran's [Cochran CE. Political science and “the public interest”. The Journal of Politics 1974;36(2):327–55] typology of public interest theories and inconsistent in others. The analysis also indicates that there is room for the profession to provide further guidance on the meaning of the public interest and how to apply it in practice.
Sociological studies on professionalism in accounting are dominated by the functionalist view which centres on a checklist of attributes or key criteria that distinguish professions from non-professions. Greenwood (1975) identified five distinct characteristics that set apart professions from other occupational groups.1 Embedded in these characteristics is the notion that a profession's founding and continued being relies on performing services not for its own interest but for the public good (Abercrombie et al., 1994, p. 335). According to this view, professions are created because of a genuine human need. A profession's social obligation to serve the public is paralleled by its enhanced occupational status. In return for this enhanced status, members of the profession agree to undertake their work with the public interest in mind (Carey, 1965, p. 376). Therefore, at the heart of a profession is a commitment to serve and protect the public interest (Bivins, 1993, p. 118; Briloff, 1986, p. 1; Canning and O’Dwyer, 2001, p. 727; Mitchell et al., 1994, p. 40). An orientation to serve the needs of the public is a critical factor that sociologists use to distinguish professions from other occupations (Freidson, 1993, p. 19). The functionalist view of professionalisation assumes that there is a natural harmony between individual interests and the interests of society as a whole. However, the functionalist view has been challenged by critical researchers adopting self-interest rationales in understanding the nature of professions. The interactionist perspective (also referred to as the conflict model) views the profession as an occupational monopoly that seeks to further its self-interest (Bédard, 2001). According to this view, the high social and economic status enjoyed by the profession is the result of obtaining a monopolistic position which is maintained by controlling entry through educational requirements (Lindblom and Ruland, 1997). Unfortunately, members use their expertise and authority to abuse the trust that society has placed in them, most often to “advance their own interests at the expense of those they serve” (Frankel, 1989, p. 110). Perhaps it is for this reason that the ‘heart’ of a profession is a commitment, first and foremost, to serve the public interest. However, research in the profession's disciplinary enforcement shows primacy of private interest over public interest (Bédard, 2001, p. 430; Canning and O’Dwyer, 2001 and Parker, 1994). Therefore, according to the interactionist perspective, the public interest is advocated only in that it supports the profession's self-interest. The sociology of professions, discussed only briefly in this paper, highlights the centrality of the public interest to the existence of a profession like accounting. Behaviour contrary to the public interest, real or apparent, can have devastating affects. Consider the case of Arthur Andersen who collapsed in a scandal for its perceived failure to protect the public interest. Andersen was convicted in 2002 for obstruction of justice for shredding documents relating to the collapse of the Enron. The conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court in 2005, however by this time Andersen lost nearly all of its clients. Andersen's greatest foe was not the courts but the public who lost trust in a firm that had built its reputation on integrity. This case demonstrates quite dramatically how the profession relies on the assumptions of trust and how accounting firms can squander their social status (McMillan, 2004). It is contention of this paper that enhancing public trust begins with understanding the public interest and its implications and not simply stating it.
نتیجه گیری انگلیسی
In accounting, the public interest is generally defined as the collective well-being of people and institutions the profession serves and to protect the economic interests of third parties by facilitating an efficient and effective economic decision making process through the provision of relevant and reliable economic data. The premise underlying the accountants’ duty to protect the public interest is based on upholding the fundamental principles of professional conduct such as expertise, knowledge, competence and integrity. By upholding such principles, members of the profession ensure the happiness and collective welfare of the public and thus protect the economic well-being of the community. Code-based definitions of the public definitions and subsequent interpretations which emphasise the collective well-being of the community are based on a universal standard that aims to benefit the entire, or majority population affected by the services provided by members of the accounting profession. What remains unspecified is the meaning of the ‘collective well-being’ and whether the collective well-being is confined to the people that the profession serves or whether it extends to others (Baker, 2004). The analysis undertaken in this paper found that existing commentary and pronouncements on the public interest, whether by design or accident, rely on all aspects of Cochran's (1974) typology to varying degrees (see Fig. 2). The public interest is underpinned by a normative definition to provide a foundation to understanding the public interest, and in turn, give it meaning. While definitions and supportive narrative on the public interest emphasise normative aspirations, in practice, the role of financial reporting emphasises the economic interests of the few rather than the majority. Due to the far-reaching implications of a definition that relies on the whole of the community, consensualist notions of the public interest are relied upon to better understand key stakeholder groups and common interests. This analysis also highlights the shortcomings of a financial reporting framework that focuses on providing decision useful information to a narrow group of users. Process theories are concerned with procedures to ensure consequent member behaviour is consistent with serving the public interest which is normally achieved by adherence with the fundamental principles of professional conduct. The renewed emphasis by the profession on developing and promoting high quality standards through the various boards and committees has given prominence to process theory as the preferred method to serving the public interest. However, adherence to professional standards is more likely to be achieved with a coherent code of ethics and the promulgation of high quality standards that are effectively and properly enforced. Unfortunately, critics claim the system of self-regulation favours the profession's reputation rather than enforcing and the proper ethical conduct of its members. Self-interest, or abolitionist notions of the public interest is harmful when decisions are made in the absence of consideration to others. However, self-interest in beneficial when it is provided through the advancement of the public interest. In sum, code-based definitions of the public interest rely on normative principles, but standard setters adopt a consensualist approach in defining the public and their interests. In its application, serving the public interest relies on process theorises but the disciplinary processes of the accounting profession employs an abolitionist perspective on protecting the public interest. Similar to the problems identified in the political science literature, the public interest does not appear to have a precise meaning and existing definitions are inadequate to serve the accountant's daily and ongoing responsibilities (Baker, 2004, p. 12; Canning and O’Dwyer, 2001, p. 278; Sikka et al., 1989 and Willmott, 1990, p. 318). The concept of the public interest in accounting appears to be disjointed and without clear or precise meaning and understanding. Consequently, the meaning of the public interest in accounting suffers from criticisms that centre on an expression that is unscientific and incapable of identifying a community beyond the interests of special user groups making it incomprehensible and unenforceable. In the absence of a definitive meaning capable of practical application, members of the accounting profession are unlikely to understand the concept of the public interest, their consequent responsibilities, or the significance of the consequences to those who are most affected by the services provided by professional accountants. Leaders in government and business have an obligation to define the public interest and to educate its citizenry on its meaning. Leaders are seen by members to have wisdom greater than ordinary citizens, therefore definitions of the public interest are more readily accepted by the public because they are seen to be based on informed wisdom. As representatives and spokesperson for accountants, professional accounting bodies are empowered with a similar responsibility to act on behalf of a public and to do whatever is necessary to protect and advance the interests of the public. It is this ‘big-brother’ perception that the community relies upon for professional accounting bodies to define the public interest and to convert such ideologies into social power. However, while abstract definitions of the public interest are readily available, its interpretations and implementations in practice may hinder advancement of the public good. This paper provides a framework for researchers to develop a better understanding of the public interest in accounting as well as a model for further research. The analysis undertaken in this paper shows that there is room for the profession and researchers to provide further guidance on the meaning of the public interest and how to implement it. However, the profession must be careful not to fall prey to its occupational status and give pretence of respectability by supporting policies that declare their moral superiority at the expense of the public. Interestingly, IFAC originally proposed a definition of the public interest in a self-titled stand-alone section in the original draft of the proposed code of ethics in 2001.7 In a revised version of the code of ethics issued in 2003, the definition and explanation of the public interest was subsumed in the ‘Introduction’ section of the code of ethics adopting a pervasive approach to promoting the public interest that permeates all aspects of the code. However, in the final version of the IFAC code of ethics released in 2005, the definition of the public interest was withdrawn with only a minor reference to the term as being a distinguishing mark of a profession. The absence of a definition and the explicit appearance of the public interest as a fundamental principle of professional conduct, gives rise to questions on members’ awareness and compliance. The implications of such questions will be enhanced when member bodies adopt the IFAC code of ethics.8 Unlike IFAC, the Australian accounting profession retained the notion of the public interest in the ‘Introduction’ to the code of ethics. The extent to which other member bodies of IFAC adopt an approach similar to that undertaken by the Australian accounting bodies is yet to be seen. However, dissimilar approaches to recognising and explaining the public interest will only create confusion in a concept that already lacks clarity. A definition of the public interest establishes a standard for members of the profession to strive and achieve as well as create an aim to benefit others. Such a standard should be highly visible and so ingrained in the mindset of accountants that it becomes the benchmark upon which all activities are undertaken and measured. Current conceptions of the public interest are inadequate to define a concept which must stand as a measure of public policy. The absence of well-developed models of the public interest reflects a dearth of research. The analysis presented in this paper, based on Cochran's (1974) typology, is one approach to further developing the concept of the public interest in accounting. An alternative approach to understanding the public interest is to examine it as an undefined concept and describe what the public interest is not, rather than what it is. Arguably, an important area of research that is yet to be undertaken is whether researchers are able to identify variables or criteria that are capable of measuring the public interest and the collective well-being. However, before measurement issues are investigated, researchers must first understand the nature of the public interest. This paper attempts to provides one step in furthering our knowledge on the public interest in accounting.