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Nun Shall Pass

Stuart White

Freddie Mercury sang ’Who Wants To Live Forever’ in a song commissioned for the movie ‘The Highlander’ where the immortal protagonist remains forever young while he has to watch his beloved wife grow old and die. It’s a good question but would any of us like to live indefinitely?  Probably not, though a little longer than the predicted 3 score years and ten might be nice, but how to achieve that?

In 2011 The Voice newspaper reported the death of Ntame Zambezi from Nswazwi village in the North East District who died at the ripe old age of 130. When asked what kept her grandmother healthy and alive for so long her granddaughter Tunnah said that the old woman preferred a good diet of natural and fresh food from her farm and stayed active. More recently, The Monitor reported the death of Mokgadi Tolwane who although didn’t impress with longevity quite as much as Ntame, managed 113 years to her credit. Traditional food was accredited for her long life.

We could probably argue for days about what are the similarities of people living to an old age. Is it environment, lifestyle, habits, stress or lack of it, too much alcohol, not enough alcohol, smoking, exercise or what about diet, does that hold the secret? Mokgadi liked only traditional food while Ntame was partial to snuff and reportedly only ate junk food at the end of her life (supposedly to speed up the dying process). Susannah Mushatt Jones, listed last month by The Independent newspaper as the oldest living woman alive at 115 years old has a taste in food which hardly fits with what we equate with healthy living or did I miss the memo sanctioning  bacon, eggs and grits (porridge) for breakfast for a long life? The fact is there are just too many insidious factors for us to isolate the cause of longevity or can we?  

One of the longest and arguably most remarkable study on longevity and happiness ever done was conducted with 180 Nuns. You may ask ‘why nuns’ and it wasn’t simply the selection of a random profession. In fact they offered the perfect study group.  Nuns were signalled out for the experiment because they lead routine and sheltered lives and are unaffected by the external and random factors that affect normal lifestyles. They eat roughly the same bland diet. They have the same reproductive and marital experiences (none). They are in the same socio-economic class, don’t get sexually transmitted diseases, have the same access to good medical care and don’t drink or smoke. The experiment wanted to establish which nuns would live longer and why, or perhaps equally as interesting, why not?  

When the nuns entered the convent as novitiates in 1932 they had to write a short sketch of their lives on the momentous occasion. When these documents were rated on positive emotion by assessors (who did not know how long the nuns had lived) it was discovered that 90% of the most cheerful quarter was alive at age 85 versus 34% of the least cheerful quarter. Similarly 54% of the most cheerful quarter was alive at age 94 as opposed to 11% of the least cheerful quarter. So the result of the study it would seem is that a happy nun is a long lived nun.

In another study of 141 female senior class photographs in a school yearbook conducted by trained psychologists searching for ‘authentic’ and ‘non authentic smiles (see Duchenne smile if you want more information on this), the woman were contacted at ages 27, 43 and 52 and asked about their marriages, life satisfaction etc. Astonishingly genuine smilers were on average more likely to be married, stay married and to experience more well-being over the next 30 years.

Our fascination with a long life and healthy living is not new but I suspect our interest is increasing as more researchers are looking for the answers. Longevity is a growing business and with our average age increasing dramatically as life expectancy grows year on year and from one generation to the next, doubtless there will be more and more customers hoping to cash in on gaining a few more years. Predictions are, according to WHO that while there is a less than 1 % chance of living to 100 the most recent figures are saying that both men and woman can live 4 years longer than predicted in 1990 which means that the UK figures are now 73 for a man and 80 for woman.  It’s higher if you are in Japan with woman’s expectancy being 86 but much lower if you are living in Sierra Leone where it is 50. Regardless of where you reside, woman on average outlive men.

Arguably there must be many factors which contribute to a long life. In our own local story Mokgadi was described as “cheerful” and Ntame as “in good spirits most of her life” and while this doesn’t constitute empirical evidence it is in line with those 2 studies, along with a growing amount of compelling research which proves that happy people live longer and that subjective wellbeing contributes to good health.  

Of course, what makes one person happy may be quite different to what cheers up another.  If the nuns and housewives had switched places, for example, that might have wiped the smiles of all their faces!  On the other hand, if they had all relocated to Japan some might still be with us!  Now there’s a funny thing!
STUART WHITE is the Managing Director of HRMC and they can be reached on 395 1640 or at  HYPERLINK ""

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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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