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Service Concession Arrangements entered into by governments are a type of Public-Private Partnership. The term Public-Private Partnership is a rather generic term that has been applied whenever representatives of the public and private sectors sit around the same table to reach a consensus on a wide variety of possible arrangements. Thus the term PPP encompasses any form of agreement between such two parties. The concept of Service Concession Arrangements, as outlined by IPSAS 32, is a binding agreement between a grantor and an operator, as a means for the operator to provide a public service on behalf of the grantor for a period specified through such arrangement. Whilst providing such service, the operator would be compensated either directly from the governmental entity or through fees charged to the public making use of such service.
Distinction between Service Concession Arrangements and Public-Private Partnerships
A PPP can be best explained as an arrangement between a public sector entity and a private sector entity, the aim of which is to deliver a public sector asset, such as infrastructure, public facility or service. PPP arrangements can take a number of different forms that are often distinguished by the extent of private sector involvement in the underlying project. SCAs are a specific category falling within such PPP arrangements.
SCAs differ from other types of PPP arrangements in that the risks and the benefits associated with constructing, owning and operating the underlying asset, along with the control over such asset, and the provision of services derived from the asset, are shared to a greater degree by the public sector entity and private sector entity involved in the undertaking.
International Public Sector Accounting Standards
International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS) are a set of accounting standards chartered by the International Public Sector Accounting Standards Board (IPSASB), which focus on the accounting, auditing and financial reporting requisites faced by national and local governments. The aim of IPSAS is to try and address such needs by promoting benchmark guidance, by conducting research programmes, facilitating the transfer and exchange of information amongst accountants who work in the public sector and refer to such work for guidance.
IPSAS 32 prescribes the accounting requirements on part of the grantor, which is defined in the same standard as "the entity that grants the right to use the service concession asset to the operator". Plainly put the grantor is the public sector entity. The other party is the operator, defined by IPSAS 32 as "the entity that uses the service concession asset to provide public services subject to the grantor's control of the asset".
The effective date of such a standard is for annual financial statements covering periods beginning on or after January 1, 2014, however earlier application is encouraged.
IPSAS 32 identifies as one of its main objectives, the identification and accounting execution of any arrangement falling within its scope, whereby the operator is providing public services related to the service concession asset on behalf of the grantor.
IPSAS 32 has its basis from IFRIC 12. The International Financial Reporting Interpretations Committee (IFRIC) has issued this standard which also deals with Service Concession Arrangements, however its focus is on determining whether the operator controlled the asset used in a SCA. On the other hand, in IPSAS 32 the focus is to try and assess whether the grantor controlled the asset or otherwise.
Reason for undertaking Service Concession Arrangements
As outlined by Dr Lawrence Gonzi, in his Budget Speech in 2005:
"Wherever possible, government will seek out opportunities to engage in public private partnerships. The end purpose would be to attain a better product or a more efficient service at a lower cost."
Moreover, as specified during a conference organised by the Malta Chamber of Commerce on Sustainable Partnerships, on the 29th of September 2012, the aim of Public-Private Partnerships is to
"Provide an opportunity for networking between the various stakeholders in the Maltese public and private sectors as well as civil society".
In recent years, the Maltese government has opted to pursue a social and economic stance whereby it would operate hand-in-hand with the private sector on matters which are of public interest. In practice, SCAs deal with the provision of assets and associated services, which include:
Public facilities such as health services and homes for the elderly
Long-term contractual arrangements such as infrastructural projects, including roads, bridges, tunnels, airports, energy supply and telecommunication networks
The rationale for undertaking SCAs in general, instead of the conventional public procurement process, rests on the ideology that risk sharing with a private partner enables both parties to deliver a higher value for money project for the public sector, which is the ultimate end user.
As outlined by the Malta Investment Management Company Limited (MIMCOL), which is the company acting as an investment services advisor to the Maltese government, the justification for any government to undertake SCAs can be outlined as being:
Long-term plan to the provision of public services
Facilities and services can be provided efficiently and effectively, assuming the private sector aims to maximise profits. This can be achieved through:
Accelerated delivery of service
Enhanced delivery of service through a higher standard
Hold private partner responsible to maintain the quality of service over the life of the project
Catalyst for public sector reform
Allows the public sector to focus on pressing matters and on key activities which are in line with long-term policy priorities
Can fuel innovation
Produces savings in terms of operational costs, which in turn diminish the overall costs for the government
Service Concession Arrangements in Malta
In Malta, the untapped potential of PPP was also acknowledged, and in 2003 the first steps were taken to set up a framework within which a form of partnership between the public sector and private companies could take place. This culminated in the issue of Legal Notice 177 of 2005 Public Contracts Regulations, which provided some guidance with regards to the handling and management of public contracts.
In view of this, in 2005 the Maltese government proposed a structure which would have the purpose of managing such contracts. In 2008 a PPP Support Unit was created, under the auspices of MIMCOL, who was entrusted with publicising the possibilities and opportunities offered by PPPs within the public sector. The aim of such a Unit, as outlined in the Ministry of Finance's website, is:
To promote partnership arrangements that draw on the strengths of both the Public and Private sectors by encouraging innovative and cost effective forms of public service delivery. https://mfin.gov.mt/en/home/Pages/The-Public-Private-Partnership-Unit.aspx
Moreover, in order to enhance transparency and aid the SCAs process, the Ministry of Finance has published in 2005 a Guide to the Public Private Partnership Procurement Process.
At present the PPP Support Unit is working on a list of identifiable possible SCA projects for the future. At present, "around 30 projects have been targeted so far" http://mimcol.com.mt/public-private-partnerships-ppp-and-private-finance-initiatives-pfi/ although most of them are still at the conceptual stage.
2.6 Concluding Remark
Service Concession Arrangements and Public-Private Partnerships in general mark an inclusive way in terms of how the government delivers public services. By tapping more on the resources held by the private sector, such as the potential for innovation, and their capability of efficiency, SCAs can, when structured properly, give rise to an enhanced mutual beneficial outcome for both parties, and for the end users.
Rationale for Research
As outlined by IFAC in its Consultation Paper of March 2008, due to the general complexity of such SCA transactions, the financial reporting of the property for the public and private sector entities is rather unclear. IFAC attributes such lack of clarity due to the recent situation where there was little in the way of accounting and financial reporting guidance specific to SCAs.
Furthermore, this same organisation is of the opinion that such lack of specific guidance for SCAs has caused divergence in how the property in these arrangements is reported, and this in some cases has led to assets being left out of the books of either the public sector entity or the private sector entity. In shady circumstances, this has provided public sector entities the opportunity to use SCAs as a means to fulfil their infrastructure needs whilst not recognising the property and related financing in their financial statements, thereby potentially enabling the meeting of fiscal targets.
As outlined above, the benefits which could be reaped through SCAs and through the PPP process in general are vast. However, although such a potential is widely accepted, and strived for in Malta, little has been done in order to reach such an ideological scenario. In Malta, there still exist some unexploited areas of study when it comes to partnerships between the private and public sectors; and one such area of study is concerned with Service Concession Arrangements.
Adding the above two factors with the present situation in Malta, whereby the resources within the government departments dealing with PPP are still scarce, it comes to no surprise that research in this area was rather lacking, and a necessity if the situation is to be changed. As a result, the rationale behind the conduct of such research is to induce awareness, especially in view that IPSAS 32 is to become effective in the year 2014. Moreover, another justification for conducting this study having special regard towards SCAs is that although the public might be aware of governments conducting some form of PPP in general, since the concept of SCA is relatively new, the public might be unaware of the potential of experiencing such benefits.
Therefore, in order to sum up, the ultimate aim of this dissertation is to analyse the prevailing accounting treatment, and that proposed by IPSAS 32, in terms of Service Concession Arrangements.
3.2 Time Plan
This section tries to scratch the surface in terms of how such a research is to be carried out in-terms of time frame. By outlining how the work is to be structured, one ensures that all the phases of research are given adequate attention, so that in the end the objectives are reached whilst taking into consideration the limited time and resources. This time plan depicted below in Figure 1, takes into consideration the extensive research and literature review that must be performed prior to actually starting to shape the dissertation.
Research Previous Work
Carry Out Interviews
Analyse Effects of IPSAS 32
The Objectives of the Study
The aim of this study is to anticipate the impact of IPSAS 32 on accounting for Service Concession Arrangements made by the Government of Malta. The following are the objectives which provide a guidance for such aims:
What is the process currently set-up by the local government when it comes to Service Concession Arrangements in Malta?
What is being proposed with regards to Service Concession Arrangements at a European and international level?
What is the way forward; should Maltese government adopt IPSAS 32? What are the problems which could be encountered through such a transition?
In order to obtain a deeper understanding with regards to the current situation in Malta, and thus to meet the objectives of such a dissertation, qualitative interviews will be carried out. Primary data will be collected through semi-structured interviews, with persons accustomed to the process of Service Concession Arrangements and PPP in Malta.
Moreover, the sampling method to be chosen is the Snowball Method, or Chain Sampling, where existing study subjects or contacts make referral for future subjects from among their associates.
At this preliminary stage, I have contacted Mr Paul Walzing, Manager at the Malta Investment Management Co. Ltd (MIMCOL) / Malta Government Investments (MGI), who has accepted to providing research support and material for such a dissertation, and possibly making referrals to other entities and individuals who have an exposure to such an area. Please refer to Appendix 1 for such confirmation.