Misalignment of interest: An actor-network analysis of a government budgeting practice

Main Article Content

Chandrasiri Abeysinghe


Research aim: This paper aims at finding an explanation as to why a government budget operates as a ritual, as has been observed in the Sri Lankan Government budgeting practice and many Less Developed Country (LDC) accounting studies.
Design/ Methodology/ Approach: Designed to be a historical study, this study illustrates the government budgeting practice referring to the Sri Lanka Railway Department (SLRD), benefitting from Actor-Network Theory (ANT) using data from archival sources, content analysis of documents, published materials and interviews.
Research finding: This research finds that accounting and control practices dysfunction when they do not support the aligned interests of the underlying actor-network.
Theoretical contribution/ Originality: This paper focuses on the ‘aligned interest’ of an actor-network, tracking changes of human and non-human actors of a ruling network over three ruling regimes within 1815 to 2019, illuminating the use of ANT in analysing how accounting practices develop over time.
Practitioner/ Policy implication: This research reveals to practitioners in the LDC context, a reason for budgeting to operate as a ritual, helping them to formulate necessary action. To the policymaker, this research reveals that for successful performance, the overall policy framework must address the underlying dominant interest.
Research limitation: This research focuses on a single aligned interest in an actor-network. However, some public sector institutions operate with multiple interests. Further studies are needed to understand how accounting and control practices in such a context.
Keywords: Government budgeting, Actor-Network Theory, Colonial legacies in accounting, LDC accounting and controls, Political interest in public sector accounting
Type of article: Research paper
JEL Classification: H61, H72, H83, M48
Received: 3 May 2020
Revised: 6 September 2020, 1 October 2020
Accepted: 9 October 2020
Published online: 29 January 2021


Download data is not yet available.

Article Details

Research Paper


Abeysinghe, C., & Samanthi, D. (2016). Accrual basis and political interest in public sector accounting: The case of a Municipal Council in Sri Lanka. International Journal of Academic Research in Accounting, Finance and Management Sciences, 6(3), 58-68. http://dx.doi.org/10.6007/IJARAFMS/v6-i3/2161
Adam, C., Cavendish, W., & Mistry, P. S. (1992). Adjusting privatisation – case studies from LDCs. London: Ian Randle Publishers Ltd.
Administration Reports of Sri Lanka Railways Department from 1864 to 2004
Adhikari, P., & Jayasinghe,K. (2017). ‘Agents-in-focus’ and ‘agents-in-context’: The strong structuration analysis of central government accounting practices and reforms in Nepal. Accounting Forum, 41, 96–115. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.accfor.2017.01.001
Adhikari, P., Kuruppu, C., & Matilal, S. (2013). Dissemination and institutionalisation of public sector accounting reforms in less developed countries: A comparative study of the Nepalese and Sri Lankan central governments. Accounting Forum, 37, 213–230. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.accfor.2013.01.001
Alam, M. (1997). Budgetary Process in uncertain contexts: A study of state-owned enterprises in Bangladesh. Management Accounting Research, 8(2), 147-167. https://doi.org/10.1006/mare.1996.0044
Alam, M., & Lawrence, S. (1994). Institutional aspects of budgetary processes: A case study in a developing country. Asian Review of Accounting, 2(1), 45-62. https://doi.org/10.1108/eb060645
Alama, M., Lawrence, S., & Nandana, R. (2004). Accounting for economic development in the context of post-colonialism: The Fijian experience. Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 15, 135-157. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1045-2354(03)00006-6
Alcouffe, S., Berland, N., & Levant, Y. (2008). A virtual integration—The management control system in a multinational enterprise. Management Accounting Research, 19(1), 45-61. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mar.2007.08.001
Annisette, M., & Neu, D. (2004). Accounting and empire: An introduction. Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 15(1), 1-4. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1045-2354(03)00002-9
Arnaboldi, M., & Azzone, G. (2011). Trials of explicitness in the implementation of public management reform. Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 22(6), 550-566. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpa.2011.06.003
Auditor General’s Report for the Ceylon Government Railways Department for 1885, 1912, 1935, 1942, 1955 and 1966
Bakre, O. (2008). Financial reporting as technology that supports and sustains imperial expansion, maintenance and control in the colonial and postcolonial globalisation: The case of the Jamaican economy. Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 19(4), 487–522. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpa.2006.09.002
Becker, S. D., Jahala, T., & Skaerbaek, P. (2010). Constructing performance measurement in the public sector. Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 21(4), 266-282. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpa.2010.01.016
Bell, C. (1992). Ritual theory, Ritual Practice, NY: Oxford University Press.
Boll, K. (2014). The translation of accrual accounting and budgeting and the reconfiguration of public sector accountants’ identities. Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 25(4-5), 324-338. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpa.2013.05.004
Briers, M., & Chua, W. F. (2001). The role of actor-networks and boundary objects in management accounting change: A field study of an implementation of activity-based costing. Accounting, Organizations and Society, 26(3), 237–269. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0361-3682(00)00029-5
Briers, M., & Chua, W. F. (2008). Actor-networks and the diffusion of management accounting innovations: A comparative study. Management Accounting Research, 19(1), 1-17. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mar.2007.04.001
Burrell, G., & Morgan, G. (1979). Sociological paradigms and organisational analysis. London: Heinemann
Caiden, N., & Wildavsky, B. (1980). Planning and budgeting in poor countries, New Brunswick, Transaction Books
Callon, M. (1992). The dynamics of techno-economic networks. In Coombs, R., Saviotti, P., & Walsh, V. (Eds.), Technological change and company strategies: economic and sociological perspectives. (pp. 77-102). London: Harcout Brace Jovanovich.
Callon, M., & Latour, B. (1992). Don’t throw the baby out with the bath school! a reply to collins and yearley. In A. Pickering (Ed.), Science as practice and culture. (pp. 343-368), Chicago: University of Chicago Press
Callon, M., & Law, J. (1989). On the Construction of Sociotechnical Networks: content and context revisited. Knowledge and Society: Studies in the Sociology of Science: Past and Present, 8, 57-83.
Caron, M., & Turcotte, M. B. (2009). Path dependence and path creation: Framing the extra-financial information market for a sustainable trajectory. Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, 22(2), 272-297. https://doi.org/10.1108/09513570910933979
Chua, W. F. (2004). Translating social theory: A critical commentary. Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 15(2), 255-60. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1045-2354(03)00069-8
Davie, S. S. K. (2000). Accounting for Imperialism: A case of British-imposed indigenous collaboration. Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, 13(3), 330–359. https://doi.org/10.1108/09513570010334900
Davie, S. S., & McLean, T. (2017). Accounting, Cultural Hybridisation and Colonial Globalization: A case of British civilising mission in Fiji. Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, 30(4), 932-954. https://doi.org/10.1108/AAAJ-11-2013-1519
Dean, P. N. (1986). Performance Budgeting in Sri Lanka. Public Budgeting and Finance, Summer, pp. 63-75.
Dissanayake, T., Dellaportas, S. l., & Yapa, P. W. S. (2020). The diffusion-adoption of accrual accounting in sri lankan local governments. Financial Accountability and Management, 36(3), 261-277. https://doi.org/10.1111/faam.12222
Doolin, B., & Lowe, A. (2002). To reveal is to critique: Actor-network theory and critical information systems research. Journal of Information Technology, 17(2), 69-78. https://doi.org/10.1080/02683960210145986
Frenkel. M., & Shenhav, Y. (2006). From binarism back to hybridity: A postcolonial reading of management and organization studies. Organisation Studies, 27, 855-876. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0170840606064086
Goddard, A. (2010). Contemporary Public Sector Accounting Research: An international comparison of journal papers. The British Accounting Review, 42(2), 75–87. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bar.2010.02.006
Goodsell, C. T. (1989). Administration as ritual. Public Administration Review, 49(2), 161–166.
Hanzard of the Parliament of Ceylon, 1938
Helden, J. V., & Uddin, S. (2016). Public sector management accounting in emerging economies: A literature review. Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 41, 34-62. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpa.2016.01.001
Hemming, R., & Mansoor, A. M. (1988). Privatisation and Public Enterprises: (IMF Occupational Paper No. 56). Washington, DC: IMF.
Hopper, T., & Powell, A. (1985). Making sense of research into the organisational and social aspects of management accounting: A review of its underlying assumptions. Journal of Management Studies, 22(5), 429-465. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-6486.1985.tb00007.x
Hopper, T., Lassou, P., & Soobaroyen, T. (2017). Globalisation, accounting and developing countries. Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 43, 125-148. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpa.2016.06.003
Hopper, T., Tsamenyi, M., Uddin, S., & Wickramasinghe, D. (2009). Management accounting in less developed countries: What is known and needs knowing. Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, 22(3), 469-514. https://doi.org/10.1108/09513570910945697
Hoque, Z. (1995). Budgetary control systems in public sector enterprises in a less developed country: Some evidence from Bangladesh. International Journal of Accounting, 3, 44-55.
Hoque, Z. & Hopper, T. (1994). Rationality, accounting and politics: A case study of management control in a Bangladeshi jute mill. Management Accounting Research, 5(1), 5-30. https://doi.org/10.1006/mare.1994.1002
Hoque, Z., & Hopper, T. (1997). Political and industrial relations turbulence, competition and budgeting in the nationalized jute mills of Bangladesh. Accounting and Business Research, 27(2), 125-43. https://doi.org/10.1080/00014788.1997.9729539
Hui, D. (2012). Actor-Network Theory Analysis of The Budgetary Process in The New Zealand School Sector. Unpublished PhD thesis, Auckland University of Technology School of Business, NZ
Justesen, L., & Mouritsen, J. (2011). Effects of actor-network theory in accounting research. Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, 24(2) 161-193. https://doi.org/10.1108/09513571111100672
Jayawardena, V. K. (1972). The Rise of the Labour Movement in Ceylon, Durham, NC: Duke University.
Jayawardena, K. (2000). Nobodies to Somebodies. Delhi: Progress Printers.
Komori, N. (2014). Mapping tax compliance: assemblages distributed action and practices: A new way of doing tax research. Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 25(4-5), 293-303. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpa.2013.03.002
Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the Social: An introduction to actor-network theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Law, J. (1992). Notes on the theory of the actor network: Ordering, strategy and heterogeneity. Systemic Practice and Action Research, 5(4), 379-393. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01059830
Lowe, A. (2000). The construction of a network at health Waikato: ‘Towards clinical budgeting’ project’. Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, 13(1), 84-114. https://doi.org/10.1108/02689230010359200
Lowe, A. (2001). After ANT: An illustrative discussion of the implications for qualitative accounting case research. Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, 14(3), 327-51. https://doi.org/10.1108/EUM0000000005519
Lowe, A. (2004a). Post social relations: Toward a performative view of accounting knowledge. Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, 17(4), 604-28. https://doi.org/10.1108/09513570410554579
Lowe, A. (2004b). Methodology choices and the construction of facts: Some implications from the sociology of scientific knowledge. Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 15(2), 207-31. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1045-2354(03)00067-4
Lukes, S. (1975). Political ritual and social integration. Sociology, 9, 289–308. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F003803857500900205
McComas, K., Besley, J. C., & Black, L. W. (2010). The rituals of public meetings. Public Administration Review, 70, 122–130. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-6210.2009.02116.x
Miller, P. (1991). Accounting innovation beyond the enterprise: Problematizing investment decisions and programming economic growth in the UK in the 1960s. Accounting, Organizations and Society, 16(8), 733-62. https://doi.org/10.1016/0361-3682(91)90022-7
Mimba, N. S. H., Van-Helden, G. J., & Tillema, S. (2007). Public sector performance measurement in developing countries: A literature review and research agenda. Journal of Accounting and Organizational Change, 3(3), 192-208. https://doi.org/10.1108/18325910710820265
Munasinghe, I. (2002). The colonial economy on track: Roads and railways in Sri Lanka (1800-1905), Colombo: The Social Scientists’ Association.
Murdoch, J. (1997). The spaces of actor-network theory. Geoforum, 29(4), 357-374. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0016-7185(98)00011-6
Nkrumah, K. (1973). Towards Colonial Freedom, London: Panaf.
Peebles, P. (1973). The Transformation of a Colonial Elite: The Mudaliyars of nineteenth century Ceylon. PhD dissertation, University of Chicago.
Pfeffer, J. (1981). Power in organisations. Cambridge, UK: Ballinger Publishing Company
Pipan, T., & Czzarniawska, B. (2010). How to Construct an Actor Network: Management accounting from idea to practice. Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 21(3), 243-251. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpa.2008.04.001
Preston, A., Cooper, D. J., & Coombs, R. W. (1992). Fabricating budgets: A study of the production of management budgeting in the National Health Service. Accounting, Organizations and Society, 17(6), 561-93. https://doi.org/10.1016/0361-3682(92)90014-J
Quattrone, P. (2004a). Accounting for god: Accounting and accountability practices in the society of Jesus (Italy, XVI-XVII centuries). Accounting, Organizations and Society, 29(7), 647-83. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aos.2004.03.001
Quattrone, P. (2004b). Commenting on a commentary? Making methodological choices in accounting. Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 15(2), 232-47. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1045-2354(03)00066-2
Quattrone, P. (2009). ‘We have never been post-modern’: On the search of management accounting theory. European Accounting Review, 18(3), 621-630. https://doi.org/10.1080/09638180902863837
Robson, K. (1991). On the arenas of accounting change: The process of translation. Accounting, Organizations and Society, 16(5-6), 547-570. https://doi.org/10.1016/0361-3682(91)90041-C
Robson, K. (1992). Accounting numbers as “inscription”: Action at a distance and the development of accounting. Accounting, Organizations and Society, 17(7), 685-708. https://doi.org/10.1016/0361-3682(92)90019-O
Sessional Papers of the Colonial Government of Ceylon for 1885, 1886,1912 and 1926
Silva, K. M. (1981). A History of Sri Lanka, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications
Smith, A., & Stewart, B. (2011). Organisational rituals: Features, functions and mechanisms. International Journal of Management Reviews, 12, 113–133. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2370.2010.00288.x
Somerville, I. (1999). Agency versus identity: Actor-network theory meets public relations. Corporate Communications, 4(1), 6-13.
Suchman, M. (1995). Managing legitimacy: Strategic and institutional approaches. Academy of Management Review, 20, 571-611. https://doi.org/10.2307/258788
Tsamenyi, M., Cullen, J., & Gonzalez, J. S. G. (2006). Changes in accounting and financial information system in a Spanish electricity company: A new institutional theory analysis. Management Accounting Research, 17(4), 409–432. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mar.2006.02.002
Uche, C. O., & Atkins, J. F. (2015). Accounting for rituals and ritualization: The case of shareholders’ associations. Accounting Forum, 39, 34-50. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.accfor.2014.10.006
Uddin, S., & Hopper, T. (1999). Management Control, Ownership and Development: Experiences in privatised Bangladeshi enterprise”, In Mackintosh, M. and Roy, R. (Eds). Macro-reforms and Micro-processes: Political Economy and Economic Management, London: Elgar.
Uddin, S., & Hopper, T. (2001). A Bangladesh soap opera: Privatisation, accounting, and regimes of control in a less developed country. Accounting, Organizations and Society, 26(7-8), 643-672. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0361-3682(01)00019-8
Uddin, S., & Tsamenyi, M. (2005). Public sector reforms and public interest. Accounting, Accountability and Auditing Journal, 18(5), 648-674. https://doi.org/10.1108/09513570510620493
Walsham, G., & Sahay, S. (1999). GIS for district-level administration in India: Problems and opportunities. MIS Quarterly, 23(1), 39-66.
Weerawardana, L.D.S. (1951). Government and Politics in Ceylon (1931-1946), Colombo: Ceylon Economic Research Association
Whittle, A. & Mueller, F. (2010). Strategy, enrolment and accounting: The politics of strategic ideas. Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, 23(5), 626-646. https://doi.org/10.1108/09513571011054918
Wickramasinghe, D., & Hopper, T. (2005). A Cultural Political Economy of Management Accounting Controls: A case study of a textile mill in a traditional Sinhalese village. Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 16(4), 473-503. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpa.2003.07.001
Wildavsky, A. (1964). The Politics of the Budgetary Process. Boston: Little Brown.
Wildavsky, A. (1975), Budgeting: A Comparative theory of budgetary processes. Boston and Toronto: Little Brown.
Wijewardena, H., & Yapa, S. (1998). Colonialism and accounting education in developing countries: The experiences of Singapore and Sri Lanka. The International Journal of Accounting, 33(2), 269-281. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0020-7063(98)90030-9