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Suresh Cuganesan: Teaching public sector leaders how to make policy success financially sustainable

15 September 2020

News and media


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Giving public sector leaders the skills to make policies and service delivery financially sustainable is key to providing good government in the long-term.

Professor Suresh Cuganesan, who leads ANZSOG’s Executive Master of Public Administration (EMPA) core subject Public Financial Management (PFM), says managing resources in the public sector is much harder than in the private sector.

“Why? Because the private sector gets to walk away when things get unsustainable. In government you don’t get the opportunity, in fact that’s when you have to step in and step up,” he said.

In the end, regardless of how good a policy is, it will struggle to last if it not financially sustainable.

“Public Financial Management is about how we make the business of government financially sustainable. How do we meet the policy challenges with limited, and often decreasing, budget envelopes?” Professor Cuganesan said.

“In the public sector we need to be thinking long term and the financial management aspect of that needs to be front and centre.”

Professor Cuganesan says that understanding financial management, and incorporating that understanding into policy, is essential for a career in the public sector.

“To build a career in the public sector you have to be able to demonstrate the achievement of service delivery and policy goals. But to progress upwards you really need to be able to make difficult trade-offs, balancing financial sustainability with policy,” he said.

“You need to communicate this effectively with ministers, so they are on board, and then of course you need to build the buy-in with the community, so they are supportive of the direction your organisation is taking.

“Every participant in Public Financial Management develops the skills and capabilities to analyse, evaluate and communicate that they have used public resources in an effective and efficient manner.”

Public Financial Management is just one of the subjects in the EMPA which overall provides future public sector leaders with the opportunity to strengthen a range of crucial capabilities including strategic thinking, policy design, evidence-based decision making, governing in a market economy, ethics and integrity, and change management.

Since 2003, more than 70 EMPA students have gone on to hold roles as CEOs, secretaries or equivalent.

Tailored to fit around the lives of busy public servants, the EMPA explores the core principles of public sector management, including public value and systems thinking. It supports participants to develop the strategic leadership capabilities needed to contribute at the highest levels of the public sector.

Students also build a network of peers from across Australia and New Zealand, while learning from leading global academics and senior government practitioners.

EMPA applications are now open. For more information about the EMPA visit our website.