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An Engaging Conversation

STEWART WHITE
THE WORLD IN BLACK-N-WHITE

It would hardly surprise you to learn that candidate recruitment and conducting interviews is part and parcel of my job description.  Of course there’s a lot more to the complete HR protocol package than that.  Senior level recruitment is serious business, both literally and figuratively. 

It requires a complete analytical approach, batteries of psychometric testing and suitability evaluation but even in cases when the person had been pre-picked and head-hunted, poached if you like, there will inevitably be an interview somewhere along the line, if not several. 

When properly planned and conducted, the interview is where all the testing and evaluation comes together and should reveal whether the candidate is an actual fit for the specific position in the specific company rather than just a paper match.  

Ergo the interview will always remain a core element of the overall recruitment process and even the most self-confident of candidates might be allowed a little frisson of nerves at the prospect.  And so it was for one Marie Akendengue, a businesswoman living in France, who recently found herself preparing for an important meeting to potentially identify a new business partner.  In setting up the meeting she was greatly assisted by her boyfriend, Parisian businessman, Peter Ntephe. 

Keen for her to succeed, Mr. Ntephe encouraged his girlfriend to spend weeks preparing for the meeting, which was arranged in an office in the Iconic Gherkin building in the heart of London’s CBD, helping her rehearse her questions and fully prepping her for the event.

When the day of the meeting came the interviewer began predictably enough by asking pertinent questions about Marie’s company, MAK Petroleum.  However the conversation then took on a distinctly more personal tone.  Marie was quizzed about her taste in music, views on long distance relationships and how she feels about ‘talking to strange men on planes’ – which curiously was how she and Peter had met – all of which asked in a worryingly severe tone. 

Now feeling definitely uncomfortable, the interviewer left her alone to watch a short presentation and that was where the whole thing was revealed to be an elaborate hoax or rather an elaborate theatrical production with an entirely different purpose in mind.

Because as it turns out Ms. Akendengue was indeed about to be presented with a new partner – a partner for life.  As the presentation played out it was revealed as a slideshow of her journey to date with boyfriend Peter Ntephe.  The ‘interviewer’ was in fact an actor and the entire event was staged for the purpose of allowing Peter to propose to Marie in the most imaginative and inventive way he could think of. 

And as the slideshow came to an end, Peter burst into the room bearing an armful of flowers and a ring and popped the question.  Taken aback as she was, the story did have a happy ending, with Marie luckily saying yes and a photographer on hand to record the happy moment.

The entire happening, though the brainchild of new fiancé Peter, was staged with the assistance of The Proposers, a bespoke planning company whose core business it is to help set up dramatic and unique proposal scenarios and situations. 

In this instance with both parties being extremely busy people and with Marie’s business involving a good deal of travel, it offered up a logistical conundrum, hence the subterfuge woven around the non-existent potential partner and the high-powered interview at The Gherkin.  After all, what could be more plausible than meeting an important new business partner and potential investor than in one of the world’s most famous commercial buildings?

Of course it goes without saying that these type of matrimonial proposal extravaganzas don’t come cheap so we can assume that Peter has pretty deep pockets.  We can also take it as read that Marie is the sort of lady who doesn’t herself come cheap.  And think what you will of the whole thing you can’t help but admire the suitor’s chutzpah, not to mention his talent for planning and organisation and his ability to keep a secret top secret.  

Once the proposal was properly in the bag and the ring was on her finger, newly affianceéd Marie was asked about how she felt and she summed it up thus:  'The interviewer was so serious, I was trying to look for a smile on his face and I was thinking am I the only one who thinks the questions are weird?  As soon as the guy asked me about long distance relationships I knew something was not quite right. ….'Now I know that is why Peter had a smile on his face that morning when he went to work. He has put in so much preparation.'

Of course in a way it was quite apt.  All interviews by their very nature are staged events.  They have a cast of players – the interview panel and the candidate – there is a script or at least a loose brief as for an improv session, there are costumes – everyone in their Sunday best – and all the ingredients for some gritty interplay and drama as well as a happy or not so happy ending. 

The happy ending is, of course, a proposal, though not usually of a matrimonial nature and it’s to be hoped that the candidate of choice, just like Marie, says yes.  Then it’s a curtain call and applause, or at least handshakes all round.  Not so original after all, Peter but you did at least engage the person you picked out and sadly, in my business, that’s not always a given.
 

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Economic Resurgence Options: Is Export-Led Growth Tenable For Botswana?

22nd September 2020

The world in which we live is a criminally unequal one. In his iconic 1945 allegorical novella,  Animal Farm, a satire on the facetiousness  of the then Soviet Empire’s crackbrained experiment with a command economy, the legendary George Orwell in my view hit the nail squarely on the head when he said all animals were equal but some animals were more equal than others.

That’s the never-ending dichotomy of the so-called First World and its polar opposite, the so-called Third World as Orwell’s cleverly-couched diatribe applies as much to the tread-of-the-mill laissez faire economics of our day as it did to Marxist-Leninist Russia a generation back.

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Victory is Won

22nd September 2020

Israelites take Canaan under General Joshua

Even as the Nation of Israeli braced to militarily take possession of the Promised Land, General, its top three senior citizens, namely Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, were not destined to share in this god-conferred bequest. All three died before the lottery was won.

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Finance Bills: What are they about?

22nd September 2020

Financial Reporting (Amendment) Bill, 2020 and Accountants (Amendment) Bill, 2020 were expeditiously passed by parliament on Thursday.

What are these two Bills really about?  The Bills are essentially about professional values that are applicable to auditors and accountants in their practice. The Bills seeks to basically enhance existing laws to ensure more uprightness, fairness, professional proficiency, due care, expertise and or professional technical standards.

The Financial Reporting Act, 2010 (FRA) establishes the Botswana Accountancy Oversight Authority (BAOA), as the country’s independent regulator of the accounting and auditing profession. BAOA is responsible for the oversight and registration of audit firms and certified auditors of public interest entities.

In the same vein, there is the Accountants Act, 2010 establishing the Botswana Institute of Chartered Accountants (BICA) which is responsible for the registration and regulation of the accounting and auditing profession. This consequently infers that some auditors have to register first with BICA as certified auditors, and also with BAOA as certified auditors of public bodies. So, the Bills sought to avert the duplication.

According to Minister Matsheka, the duplication of efforts in the regulation of auditors, which is done by both BICA and BAOA, creates a substantial gap on oversight of certified auditors in Botswana, as the two entities have different review procedures. He contends that the enforcement of sanctions becomes problematic and, thus, leads to offenders going Scot-Free, and audit quality standards also continue to plunge.

The Financial Reporting (Amendment) Bill, 2020, in the view of the Minister, brings the oversight and regulation of all auditors in Botswana under the jurisdiction of the Accountancy Oversight Authority and that Bringing all auditors within one roof, under the supervision of BAOA would therefore reinforce their oversight and significantly enhance accountability.

He also pointed that the Bill broadens the current mandate of the Authority by redefining public interest entities to include public bodies, defined as boards, tribunals, commissions, councils, committees, other body corporate or unincorporated established under any enactment.

This covers any company in which government has an equity shareholding. In order to enable the process of instituting fitting sanctions against violation of its provisions, the Bill clearly lays down acts and lapses that constitute professional misconduct.

This Bill further strengthens the sanctions for breach of the Act by public interest entities, officers, firms, and certified auditors. Reinforcing the law with respect to such sanctions will act as an effective deterrent for breach of the Act.

The Accountants Bill also strengthens the current mandate of the Institute by making it obligatory for those who provide accountancy services in Botswana to register with the Institute, and for all employers to hire accountants who are registered with the Institute.

The Minister reasons that in line with the spirit of citizen empowerment, this Bill proposes reservation of at least 50% of the Council membership for citizens. This, he says, is to empower citizens and ensure that citizenries play an active role in the affairs of the Institute, and ultimately in the development of the accounting profession in Botswana.

The Bills come at a point when Botswana’s financial sector is in a quagmire. The country has been blacklisted by the European Union. Its international rankings on Corruption Perception Index have slightly reduced.  According to recent reports by Afro Barometer survey, perceptions of corruption in the public service have soured and so is mistrust in public institutions.

Rating agencies, Standard Poor’s and Moody’s have downgraded Botswana, albeit slightly. The reasons are that there continues to be corruption, fiscal and revenue crimes such as money laundering and general unethical governance in the country. There are still loopholes in many laws despite the enactments and amendments of more than thirty laws in the last two years.

One of the most critical aspect of enhancing transparency and accountability and general good governance, is to have a strong auditing and accounting systems. Therefore, such professions must be properly regulated to ensure that public monies are protected against white color crime. It is well known that some audit firms are highly unprincipled.

They are responsible for tax avoidance and tax evasions of some major companies. Some are responsible for fraud that has been committed. They are more loyal to money paid by clients than to ethical professional standards. They shield clients against accountability. Some companies and parastatals have collapsed or have been ruined financially despite complementary reports by auditors.

In some cases, we have seen audit firms auditing parastatals several times to almost becoming resident auditors. This is bad practice which is undesirable. Some auditors who were appointed liquidators of big companies have committee heinous crimes of corruption, imprudent management, fraud and outright recklessness without serious consequences.

There is also a need to protect whistleblowers as they have been victimized for blowing the whistle on impropriety. In fact, in some cases, audit firms have exonerated culprits who are usually corrupt corporate executives.

The accounting and auditing professions have been dominated by foreigners for a very long time. Most major auditing firms used by state entities and big private sector companies are owned by foreigners. There has to be a deliberate plan to have Batswana in this profession.

While there are many Batswana who are accountants, less are chartered accountants. There must be deliberate steps to wrestle the profession from foreigners by making citizens to be chartered.  It is also important to strengthen the Auditor General. The office is created by the constitution.

The security of tenure is clearly secured in the constitution. However, this security of tenure was undermined by the appointing authority in many instances whereby the Auditor General was appointed on a short-term contract. The office is part of the civil service and is not independent at all.

The Auditor General is placed, in terms of scale, at Permanent Secretary level and is looked at as a peer by others who think they can’t be instructed by their equivalent to comply. Some have failed to submit books of accounts for audits, e.g. for special funds without fear or respect of the office. There is need to relook this office by making it more independent and place it higher than Permanent Secretaries.

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