Mattias Haraldsson defended his thesis “Accounting and auditing in municipal organisations – Four papers on accounting compliance and audit costs” 29 April. Below you can find out more about Mattias and his research, described in his own words.
I started my PhD path in 2002, but I have been “in and out” since then and I take great joy in combining research, teaching and practical work. I always have had an interest in politics and society. Being a researcher made it possible to combine this interest with my training in accounting. Who would have thought! In my doctoral thesis, I take an interest in the role and quality of accounting and auditing practices within municipal organisations.
My own personal background into my research is that I in the year 2007 started to work as a public sector auditor at the municipal level. With time I realised that there was a tradition or culture, both among those who prepared the financial statements and among those who had the role of scrutinising the numbers, that accounting standards were not considered as regulation, rather more as recommendations, literally. Over the years I heard many local stories regarding the “use and abuse” of financial accounting numbers, but there were also those who distinguished themselves, who excelled in the art of financial reporting. I started to think about the bigger picture, if there were structures or patterns that supported or impeded high quality financial reporting, because there were, at the time, huge differences among municipalities. I started to think about accounting compliance and auditing in municipal organisations, which, as it happens, is a good theme for a thesis!
My personal experience connects to the more general background to my research. Over the last 30 years, the implementation of accrual accounting (“business accounting”) instead of more cash-based accounting systems in public sector settings has been fundamental and part of the widespread reform movement known as New Public Management (NPM). The move from cash accounting to accrual accounting highlights the importance of understanding accounting choice, compliance and auditing in municipal organisations. Not only because it is inherent within an accrual framework to make judgements on whether revenues and costs are earned or incurred as opposed to recording money in and out, but also because it seems that accrual accounting has in several cases been implemented with ill-specified accounting standards and questionable audit quality.
My thesis is a quantitative study of accounting compliance and audit costs in Swedish municipal organisations, consisting of four papers. Three of the papers explore factors that explain accounting compliance concerning financial reporting and revenue recognition in Swedish municipal water, sewerage and solid waste management organisations. The fourth paper explores the determinants of professional audit costs in Swedish municipal administrations. The results indicate that the strength and the strictness of the institutional framework (legislation, sanctions, court cases) play an important role in relation to if and how accounting compliance and audit costs are influenced by economic, political and institutional factors. Further, the studies show that major municipal governance reforms such as deregulation, corporatisation, regionalisation and cross-sectoral coordination influence accounting compliance. Thus, the conducted research also provides some evidence on the intended and unintended consequences of municipal reforms.
As for the future I hope to continue to do many different things; research, teach, write books; all those things that make academia such a great place to be part of.