14 countries come together in unparalleled finance summit

By on 13/04/2015
Peter Ong, Head of Civil Service and Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Finance, Singapore opens the inaugural Global Government Finance Summit

Heads of finance ministries from 14 countries came together in Singapore this weekend in an international gathering of unprecedented scale.

The Global Government Finance Summit, organised by Global Government Forum, and sponsored by accountancy and consultancy firm EY, was hosted byPeter Ong, head of the Singaporean civil service and permanent secretary of the Ministry of Finance.

Over the weekend, delegates were able to discuss a range of topics, including fiscal management; institutional reforms for promoting fiscal sustainability; public sector reform and performance; as well as budgeting for performance.

Countries represented were the UK, Germany, Finland, Iceland, Turkey, Oman, Angola, Bahrain, Indonesia, Kuwait, Latvia, New Zealand, Russia and Singapore.

Discussions were held strictly off the record.

Sir Nicholas Macpherson, permanent secretary of the UK Treasury, told Global Government Forum that he regularly meets colleagues from around the world at similar conferences, but added that this “was an unprecedented event for [him].”

Sir Nicholas MacPherson, permanent secretary, HM Treasury, United Kingdom, shares best practice on institutional reform

Sir Nicholas MacPherson, permanent secretary, HM Treasury, United Kingdom, shares best practice on institutional reform

He said: “There are a lot of international fora but what’s valuable about this event is that it focuses on public sector fiscal and public service reform and broader issues in an informal setting, where there can be a genuine dialogue as opposed to lots of formal speeches.

“This event brought people together from emerging as well as developed economies – people from Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Europe; it was very positive.”

His view was echoed by Guðmundur Árnason, permanent secretary of Iceland’s Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs.

Árnason said he often attends OECD and International Monetary Fund seminars, which bring together senior government officials from around the world, but added that this weekend’s summit was an “entirely different thing: It’s a smaller group and a more intimate discussion; people are less intimidated to air their concerns and speak their mind – I have never participated in anything of this kind of format.”

Heads of Financial Ministries, from 14 countires, meet at the Global Government Finance Summit

Heads of Financial Ministries, from 14 countires, meet at the Global Government Finance Summit

And Mikhail Pryadilnikov, deputy director of the Analytic Centre for the Russian government where he is responsible for budget effectiveness and strategic management, described the summit as a “unique event because it’s small and provides a candid forum.”

Martti Hetemäki, permanent secretary of Finland’s finance ministry, said at the end of the summit that his expectations had been fulfilled: “We had some really good discussions and I learnt how people in a comparable position deal with the problems that we all face; and that’s exactly what I was hoping for.”

He added that the three countries he has learnt the most from were New Zealand, Singapore and Britain.

“New Zealand was very interesting because they’ve been reforming their system over 25 years, which, I think, is quite daunting. One lesson their case has taught me is that you need to have continuous reform.”

The UK, he added, was a good example of the government recognising the “importance of informing the general public about its performance” – something it has been using the whole government accounts for since 2009-10.

His Excellency Nasser Khamis Al Jashmi, Under Secretary of Finance, Ministry of Finance, Sultanate of Oman (left) Mikhail Pryadilnikov, deputy director of the Analytic Centre for the Russian (right).

His Excellency Nasser Khamis Al Jashmi, under secretary of Finance, Ministry of Finance, Sultanate of Oman (left) Mikhail Pryadilnikov, deputy director of the Analytic Centre, Russia (right).

Singapore impressed him with its technological advances: “When I am back in Finland, I will report to my people and say that they absolutely must learn from what has been done in Singapore in terms of digitalisation [of public services].”

Iceland’s Árnason agreed that the summit’s discussions were interesting and gave him “an insight into what the concerns are of people who are leading ministries of finance in an entirely different setting from ours.”

He said that he now has “a better and deeper understanding of the challenges others are facing” and that the problems and issues finance ministries around the world cope with are “very similar, if not identical, to the ones we are working through.”

The summit has “created the opportunity to make new connections,” he said, adding that “hopefully this will be the starting point for a continued dialogue.”

Pryadilnikov shared Árnason’s hope. He said that the “key now will be to follow up [on the discussions] and try to keep the engagement going.”

 

Guðmundur Árnason, permanent secretary of Iceland’s Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs, presenting to heads of financial ministries at the Global Government Finance Summit

Guðmundur Árnason, permanent secretary of Iceland’s Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs, presenting to heads of financial ministries at the Global Government Finance Summit

The Global Government Finance Summit is an annual event organised by Global Government Forum.

For more information on how to participate, contact Kevin Sorkin at kevin@globalgovernmentforum.com.

About Winnie Agbonlahor

Winnie is news editor of Global Government Forum. She previously reported for Civil Service World - the trade magazine for senior UK government officials. Originally from Germany, Winnie first came to the UK in 2006 to study a BA in Journalism & Russian at the University of Sheffield. She is bilingual in English and German, and, after spending an academic year abroad in Russia and reporting for the Moscow Times, Winnie also speaks Russian fluently.

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