Academic journal article The Accounting Historians Journal

Accountability and Financial Control as 'Patriotic' Strategies: Accomptants and the Public Accounts Committee in Late 17th and Early 18th - Century Ireland

Academic journal article The Accounting Historians Journal

Accountability and Financial Control as 'Patriotic' Strategies: Accomptants and the Public Accounts Committee in Late 17th and Early 18th - Century Ireland

Article excerpt

Abstract: The decades immediately following the Glorious Revolution in 1688 witnessed a variety of political, social and structural responses to this cataclysmic event. In Ireland, religious conflict and economic under-development, as well as the devastation of war from 1689 to 1691, combined to ensure that the Anglo-Irish body politic found it difficult to capture the fruits of success from an English polity that had gradually accreted to itself much of the political power and economic wealth of the country. By 1704, however, the AngloIrish had managed to appropriate to themselves some of the economic and constitutional benefits of the Revolution by exploiting various parliamentary practices and structures. One of their strategies centered around developing and leveraging the role of the Public Accounts Committee as a means of imposing accountability on the executive and its officials. To achieve this the members were required to understand, contest and reconfigure official accounting information.

INTRODUCTION

The cultural construction of state power attends all imperial projects [Said, 1993; Wilson, 1995; Landes, 1998]. An appreciation of this has allowed recent scholarship to map more comprehensively those cultural aspects of early modern European expansionism that both complemented and supplemented this politico-military endeavor [Bowen, 1996]. One consequence is that the entire experience of the colonized is now more capable of being articulated within a literature that eschews the earlier elision of socio-cultural aspects of the imperial process: defeated peoples encountered not only the might of armies but also the tyranny of clerks. Thus, issues of language, religion, professionalisation and race are now regularly summoned to contour more thoroughly the impact of colonization [Johnson and Caygill, 1971; Said, 1978, 1993; Johnson, 1982; Wilson, 1995; Bowen, 1996; Chua and Poullaos, 1998; Annisette, 200O].

As part of this process the ways in which accountants, accounting information and accountability formed elements of the armory of imperialism have begun to be explored [Tinker, 1980; Chew and Greer, 1997]. Distinguishing between 'hardwares' of imperialism, such as military arms, and 'softwares/ such as language, disease and accounting [Fanon, 1963; Headrick, 1981, 1988; Miller and Rose, 1990; Said, 1993; Bell et al, 1995; Neu, 200Oa, b] various authors have identified and tracked the manner in which these technologies facilitated the process of conquest and colonization. The vocabulary of colonialism has been useful, therefore, in contextualizing the manner in which accounting helped to translate imperial objectives into practical effect, in the process mediating the relationship between the colonial power and the colonized [Davis and Huttenback, 1988; Miller and Rose, 1990; Preston et al, 1997; Neu, 1999, 200Oa, b].

This paper extends our understanding of the ways in which accounting information can be used to affect the regulative and distributive ambitions of powerful elites [Miller and Rose, 1990; Preston et al, 1997]. It does so by recounting an episode in which accounting information was not only used by the colonial power to impose government from a distance, but was also successfully employed by that power's erstwhile agents to contest legislative, jurisdictional and property rights [cf. Davie, 200O]. Consequently, it not only identifies accounting as a tool of colonialism, but also elaborates upon the consequences of conflict within the colonial power, where the principal and agent imagine, construct and deconstruct tools of oppression for their own purposes. Thus, it explores an area to which little attention has been given: the conflicts existing between the metropolitan centre and a colonial elite - a conflict that was of relatively semantic importance to the colonized - and the extent to which accounting information was used and exploited by the respective players within this hierarchy of powers [Neu, 200Ob]. …

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