A history of New Zealand municipal accounting and auditing 1876 to 1988.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
Public sector accounting has become more visible in recent years in both the accounting world and academic literature. The New Zealand public sector has, according to some commentators, been at the forefront of international developments since the 1980s. Yet discussion and analysis of current New Zealand public sector accounting is generally devoid of reference to its historical antecedent. This thesis addresses part of the lack of historical understanding of public sector accounting, auditing and financial management by providing an historical discussion of accounting and auditing by New Zealand municipalities between 1876 and 1988. Local government has always been central to the development of New Zealand's infrastructure and economy - efficiency and equity being crucial attributes of the sector. Essential to achieving efficiency and equity have been key financial and accounting principles. This thesis identifies and discusses the operation of these principles. While the principles informed most decisions relating to local government, they were not sacrosanct. Discussed in this thesis are instances where the principles were cast aside by legislation for particular situations, either for all municipalities or for a specific council. The accounting and financial management requirements were to ensure that councils were held to account for the use of ratepayers' money. This thesis identifies and discusses changes regarding whom the borough or city councils were accountable to. In the early period, accounts were clearly prepared for the local community. From the 1880s to the early 1970s, council gave account to the Audit Office, which received the account on behalf of a local community. In the early 1970s, lead by the Audit Office, this attitude changed back to the community, which held its council to account. This thesis traces the technical and philosophical changes to the accounting, auditing and financial management requirements imposed on municipalities by Parliament and central government. It also discusses the relationships between the parties involved in choosing between different levels of central oversight and local autonomy, and in choosing between different accounting policies.