| The International Federation of Accountants (IFAC), the global organization for the accountancy profession, has issued Position Paper 5, A Definition of the Public Interest.
A hallmark of the accountancy profession is its obligation to act in the public interest. But it is not always apparent what this means, and how accountants can determine whether they are meeting this expectation. IFAC, by developing this position paper, is seeking to advance its understanding of this important issue. The paper, which presents a practical definition of the public interest, was developed in the context of IFAC’s mission, to enable IFAC to assess the extent to which its actions and decisions are made in the public interest.
In light of the challenges presented by prevailing market and economic conditions, policy makers, regulators, standard setters, professional accountants, and others in the financial system are examining their roles, responsibilities, and actions; and therefore it is timely to consider the basis on which these actions are taken, and decisions made.
“IFAC developed this definition of the public interest to assist us in evaluating whether our actions and decisions are in fact in the public interest,” said IFAC CEO Ian Ball. “Whether we are using it to develop public policy positions, professional standards, or guidance and tools, we believe the definition provides rigor, objectivity, and consistency in assessing the important public interest perspective of our work. It applies not only to evaluating past and current actions and decisions; but also guides our behavior and the manner in which we assess future actions and decisions. We believe that the definition may also be relevant to other organizations and individuals that seek to act in the public interest, and feel the need for increased rigor in evaluating their actions and decisions.”
The development of the position paper included a public consultation process. Comments and feedback received from a range of stakeholders in the accountancy profession, regulatory community, and academia were considered, and incorporated into the final paper. “While we consulted widely on this policy position paper before issuing it, we continue to invite dialogue on the subject,” continued Ball. “Clearly it is a complex subject, and we hope that this paper is the beginning, rather than the end, of the debate.”
IFAC welcomes comments on this paper to: PubInt@ifac.org