Local authority accounting with special reference to Ordinance 25 of 1974 (Natal)

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

Local Authorities form the third or lowest tier of government in the Republic of South Africa and are responsible for urban development and control. Although they appear to enjoy considerable freedom of action and enjoy responsible government (except in the case of the smaller Local Authorities) they operate within a system of strict Provincial supervision and control. Provincial legislation regulating their operations differs among the Provinces and only that applying in the Province of Natal has been considered. The purpose of the Local Authority accounting system is to provide information on the economic activities of these units to interested parties. These activities involve the use of public resources and, consequently, the objectives of the accounting system are management control over, and accountability for, the use of these resources. However, neither of these objectives are fully met by current Local Authority accounting practices which are designed rather for legal compliance and stewardship accountability than providing information on their economic activities. Local Authority accounting practices differ in many respects from those of private enterprise accounting. Fund accounting is employed to segregate and control resources~ control over operating income and expenditures is through the statutory budget procedure and the use of capital finance is strictly controlled. Consequently, reporting is fragmented over the various funds, planning is usually on an annual basis and there is no proper fixed asset accounting. Financial reporting by Local Authorities is mainly designed to meet their internal needs and to discharge their responsibilities to the Provincial Councils, and the information needs of the communities they serve has been given little attention. The actual reporting is through the presentation of financial statements on a fund-by-fund basis and in aggregate form prefaced by the treasurer's report and the report of the auditor. Certain Local Authority annual reports also contain a statistical section. However, the financial statements do not provide suitable information on the results of operations and the financial position of the funds of the Local Authority as a whole. The treasurer's report and the statistical section are not required by law and their contents are purely at the discretion of the individual treasurers. The auditor's report is mainly an expression of opinion on the financial statements but may include additional information which is usually of a statistical nature. Considerable changes to the reporting system, including the use of popular reports and consolidated financial statements, have been suggested. If the Local Authority accounting system is to meet its present and future needs then it should undergo considerable change and follow many of the accounting practices presently used by private enterprises. However, such changes should be developed by Local Authorities and in this respect, the responsibility to effect change rests with the Local Authorities, the Institute of Municipal Treasurers and Accountants S A and the Provincial Councils.

Bibliography: p.207-211.