Switzerland’s cantonal and municipal authorities are currently preparing to go through a second phase in the harmonisation of how they present their accounts and budgets. A first phase took place in the 1980s, but that harmonisation only affected the cantons and municipalities. An eagerness towards a further harmonisation has seized every institutional level in Switzerland, including the Confederation. In fact, the latter has already moved to the new presentation of accounts, as have most cantons and some municipalities.
The transformation is being prepared in the remaining cantons and communes. The Conference of the Cantonal Finance Directors published a manual presenting a new Harmonized Accounting Model (HAM2) in this matter. The manual comprises 21 technical standards which public authorities are recommended to implement in their legislation with the goal of instituting a better quality of reporting for their accounts and budgets.
The principal changes are as follows: a structure of financial statements that resembles that of the private sector, including a statement of financial performance (income statement), a statement of financial position (balance sheet), a cash-flow statement and the notes to the account; wider and more accurate accounting and valuation rules; a harmonised, more detailed and coherent chart of accounts for all Swiss public authorities; a consolidation of accounts for subordinate entities. This reform will bring Swiss practices closer to the International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS).
The recommendations recommendations are meant to align the financial reporting of Switzerland’s public authorities with the true and fair view principle, and thus provide a more accurate picture of their financial situation. While HAM2 introduces some restrictive elements, it remains quite flexible: depreciation methods, ability to use extraordinary depreciation charges, thresholds for capitalisation, the scope of consolidation, etc. The leeway left to public authorities should allow them to find a solution adapted to their individual needs.