THERE has never been a greater need for an efficient public sector as is the case now — emerging out of the pandemic and leaping straight into the geo-political war in Eastern Europe. Each of these crises always puts a heavy toll on the public sector.
Even the private sector is not spared as well, but my reason for emphasising the public sector only is that when we are in a crisis and the private sector is suffering, we turn to the government.
The economic impact and the two unfortunate challenges I highlighted above further compounded an already dire situation. I am not a prophet of doom, but when the next disaster strikes, we will again need a robust safety net to save livelihoods.
Whilst I am a firm believer of always being positive the world we live in is constantly throwing curve balls at us hence the need to prepare for the unknown.
Each time we talk about safeguarding livelihoods, the accountancy profession is thrown to the fore. As I always say, it is a chief executive (or equivalent) supported by a finance director (or equivalent) whose decisions will impact the finances, the going concern of an entity and thus its ability to provide salaries to its employees. These same salaries are the source of many livelihoods.
Public sector professionals?
In the public sector, it will be both the aforementioned salaries and equally crucial the service being provided for example, energy, water and health. Still within the public sector, a case in point is the ministry of finance officials that are charged with overseeing our billions of Zimbabwean dollars, billions of foreign currency and now gold coins too.
Finance directors of ministries, agencies and departments will have the same level of responsibility just as is the case in the private sector.
This is why it is important to ensure that the accountants that are given these mammoth responsibilities are at the highest level of competency. This previous statement equally applies in the private sector.
Professional vs other accountants
I have previously written about the difference between a professional accountant and other accountants. I shall therefore not repeat this, but highlight the key issue, which is that the professional accountant belongs to a professional accountancy organisation (PAO) which provides some monitoring. The monitoring and regulation will help shape the behaviour of the professionals that we trust with billions.
Public sector accountants
It is the role of PAOs to lead on this front. The accountancy profession in Zimbabwe is 104 years old and has done so well for the private sector.
This experience must be imported into the public sector. Zimbabwe currently has eight PAOs with closely related mandates and visions. The PAOs in Zimbabwe have a role to play in this journey as well. Some efforts will require synergies between the PAOs to ensure that the public sector is professionalised as efficiently as possible.
Ideally, this should be before the year 2025 in order to coincide with the adoption of International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS) by the government.
Without necessarily sounding like a broken record, for those familiar with my previous writings on IPSAS, I would like to briefly highlight that under the revised framework which is based on accrual accounting we will see more complete financial reports.
The improved reporting will enhance trust, accountability, transparency, the quality of decision-making amongst other benefits.
Coming back to the PAOs, each body has a role to play, for example, the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Zimbabwe (Icaz) has launched the Public Sector Professional Accountant (Z) (PSPA Z) which is simply what I call the CA of the public sector.
I cannot fully vouch for the qualification’s novelty, but I am not aware of any other similar qualifications on the continent. This programme entails:
Rigorous academic training and
Structured, supervised, measured and monitored practical experience,
All founded on a bedrock of ethics, integrity and good governance.
The above are key ingredients for a professional public sector accountancy fraternity.
Benefits of PAO accountants
Whilst there are numerous, I will highlight the benefits of belonging to a PAO under four sub-categories.
Continuous professional learning: Also referred to lifelong learning, this entails being kept up to date with the latest trends.
The public sector and government will benefit immensely from having professionals that are up to speed with the latest global developments. Most PAOs have deliberate efforts to stay up to date through local, continental and global synergies to support dedicated in-house staff.
Networking and support: PAOs have significant members of the profession within Zimbabwe. This network of kith and kin will be available to professionals in public sector accounting.
Further, some PAOs have membership that consists of members in the diaspora holding various positions across the globe. This huge pool of talent is available to network and support public sector professionals in various ways, be it in the form of contacts, knowledge and other resources. There are various schools and conventions hosted by PAOs which serve both the life-long learning and the networking aspects.
Ethics and discipline: The position of the profession is that ethics can never be compromised. The public expects PAOs to be at the forefront of defending ethical behaviour and standing up for what is right.
With close relations with the International Federation of Accountants (Ifac) PAOs make use of the Ifac code of ethics which is a comprehensive set of guidelines on acceptable behaviour for a professional. Any instances of unethical behaviour are dealt with in the strictest possible manner.
Environment, Social and Governance(ESG): Strictly speaking this should not be a stand-alone sub-topic, but given how critical it is I have chosen to single it out. The drive for ESG adoption is continuously gaining momentum globally.
Given how a significant amount of our exports are produced using goods and services from the public sector, it is imperative that the public sector is well prepared for ESG principles.
We may one day risk losing markets due to failure to adopt and implement these principles, as our exports would be deemed to have been produced using goods and services from a non-compliant public sector.
An efficient and ethical public sector accounting function will be key to help grow the nation, hence, the need to ensure there is professionalisation of this function.
The Zimbabwean PAOs, including my own, will need to lead from the front on this initiative leaning on our experience with the private sector.
- Mavengere is the technical director at the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Zimbabwe (Icaz), which is the largest and longest standing PAO in Zimbabwe, having been established on January 11, 1918, and is a body corporate incorporated under the Chartered Accountants Act (Chapter 27:02). Icaz provides leadership on the development, promotion and improvement of the accountancy profession focusing in the areas of accounting education, assurance, good governance practices and leadership and organisational excellence. — email@example.com or Twitter: @OwenMavengere