Accountability and performance measurement in Australian and Malaysian government departments
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During the late 1980s, government agencies in many countries commenced the implementation of public sector management reforms in an effort to improve their efficiency and effectiveness. Many of these reforms arose as a result of demands placed on governments for improved use of public funds. These reforms, which have been wide ranging, have involved important improvements in the methods in which public sector agencies collect and report information related to accountability, particularly in the area of performance measurement. This study seeks to add to the literature on public sector accountability and performance measurement by undertaking a comparative cross-country study involving Australia and Malaysia, a developed and a developing country. Each of these countries have adopted, in varying degrees, reforms to their public sector reporting mechanisms as a result of major demands for changes to public sector funding, accountability and reporting methods. Within the study, a multiple theory approach is undertaken which uses aspects of both agency theory and institutional theory to provide a more informed understanding of the impact specific influential parties have on the level of disclosure and dissemination of accountability related information. This study examines the impact of agency and institutional related variables on the extent and frequency of the disclosure and dissemination of performance measurement information by Australian and Malaysian government departments.The major sources of data for this study comprise firstly, an analysis of the 2003/2004 annual reports of Australian and Malaysian government departments, secondly semi-structured interviews with senior finance officers of selected government departments and thirdly, a questionnaire survey forwarded to senior finance officers of all government departments in Australia and Malaysia. The findings of the content analysis and interviews concerning performance indicator disclosure by Australian Federal government departments show that cost and effectiveness performance indicators are the most disclosed indicator. For Malaysian Federal government departments, results and quantity performance indicators are the most disclosed indicators. For Australia, performance dissemination happens most often on a monthly basis whilst for Malaysia this occurs more regularly on an annual basis. In relation to performance indicator dissemination, Australian government departments are making increased use of the web to disseminate performance indicators whilst the main method of dissemination for Malaysia is their availability upon request. The major questionnaire was prepared using the annual report content analysis and interviews as a base and it was sent to the senior financer officers of all Australian and Malaysian Government Departments. The questionnaire resulted in a 37.1% response rate for Australia and a 21.7% response rate for Malaysian departments. The questionnaire was used as the base to test the influence of agency theory-related variables and institutional theory-related variables and culture on performance indicator disclosure and dissemination.The results of the agency theory-related variables rejected the hypothesised influence of oversight bodies on performance indicator disclosure and dissemination for both Australian and Malaysian government departments. The relevant size of government departments was also rejected as being an influence on the frequency of performance indicator disclosure by both countries. However, for Australian government departments, a significant influence for frequency of size of government departments of performance indicator dissemination was found to exist. The citizenry was found to have no significant influence on performance indicator disclosure by both countries. However, in the case of Malaysia, the citizenry were found to have an influence on the level of performance indicator dissemination. The results of the institutional theory related variables provided evidence that none of the variables have an influence on the frequency of performance indicator disclosure and dissemination in both countries. Finally, the results for culture showed there is a level of influence of culture on the frequency of performance indicator disclosure and dissemination. Overall the results of this study indicate both some differences and similarities between Australia and Malaysia government departments in the disclosure and dissemination of performance indicators. There is evidence in this study to indicate that in Australia, both efficiency and effectiveness performance indicators are being disclosed more often in the annual reports of government departments. However, the results for Malaysia show a considerably lower level of disclosure of efficiency and effectiveness performance indicators in government departments' annual reports than in Australia.Therefore the contrasts between the mail survey results and interview results provide for some future research that could expand the interview survey to include a larger sample to see if the Sofas perceptions are the same or different in regards to performance indicator disclosure and dissemination. The dual paradigm (agency and institutional) modeling of the determinants of performance indicator disclosure and dissemination have provided important findings from the perspectives of both the variables and the countries on which this study was based. The important findings of this study are that accountability and managerially have had differing emphases in Australia as compared to Malaysia, and that there are varying levels of disclosure, dissemination and use of performance measurement information between both individual government departments and the countries in which they reside. A range of future research possibilities are generated by this study. These possibilities range from extending the context of the hypotheses to encompass other government entities, other countries and other forms of performance measurement.
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