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STAR WARS

Stuart White
THE WORLD IN BLACK-N-WHITE

   
“Work is love made visible. And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy. For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man's hunger. And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes, your grudge distils a poison in the wine. And if you sing though as angels, and love not the singing, you muffle man's ears to the voices of the day and the voices of the night.”  Kahlil Gibran

I found myself seeking counsel from a doctor friend of mine this week, not for medical advice but for guidance on an HR matter. The concern which I had was about staff morale and engagement, really rather embarrassing and ironic seeing that I am a consultant in the HR field. But I had to overcome the discomfort of feeling like a dentist with a toothache, reminding myself of the Kahlil Gibran quote – “Work is love made visible…” because in my office there appeared to be very little love and probably even less work,  hence the need for psychological input.

We may dream of a utopian society where people are liberated from having to work but the fact is, occupation is really very central to our lives. And for this reason I feel it makes sense that people should enjoy it and to a certain extent we as managers should help make this happen. Our job, surely, is to create a desirable condition in employees that has an organisational purpose, and connotes involvement, commitment, passion, enthusiasm, focused effort, and energy. This is the definition of ENGAGEMENT.

There are four organisational drivers of engagement: transparent leadership, employee voice, organisational integrity and recognition, which, simply put means, if leadership is open and honest and employees can talk, feel heard and be recognized then you are likely to have engaged workers. There are also individual-level drivers that contribute to engagement and peak performance at work, and these are when employees can focus on using their strengths by making better use of their talents, developing their potential and doing tasks that they are good at as well as being aligned with the organisation’s goals.

Psychological capital (PsyCap) is one of the new buzz words shaping HR. This refers to an individual’s positive psychological state and it’s very important because employees with high PsyCap are generally more desirable employees with better attitudes and performance. With PsyCap people have the confidence to take on and put in the necessary effort to succeed at challenging tasks. To also have a positive mind-set about succeeding now and in the future (hope) and will persevere towards goals and have resilience to overcome obstacles when achieving these goals. You might call it commitment but whatever label you put on it, you will know when it is present as the person is engaged and the benefits that you reap as an employer are plenty. On the other hand, in its absence there is havoc, despondency, poor performance and a disturbing vacuum.

A really great illustration of PsyCap in action is in the videos recorded in space by astronaut Chris Hadfield who demonstrated lots of hope and optimism which was critical for selecting a career as an astronaut. The training he received at NASA instilled resilience and self-efficacy about the power of negative thinking. In their training they were taught to overcome fear by handling ‘bad news’ or ‘worse case’ simulations covering everything that could possibly go wrong in space. Astronauts would act out these scenarios repeatedly so that if they did happen they would have the resolution and self-confidence to handle it. They were forced to confront the problem of failure head-on and, in common parlance, ‘make a plan’, be it mental or physical. As Hadfield said “After a few years of doing that pretty much daily you’ve forged the strongest possible armor to defend against fear: hard-won confidence”.

When staff are engaged it doesn’t mean that work is easy. It rarely is. But the approach to situations and commitment is dramatically different from that of non-engaged workers.

The symptoms of low PsyCap in my own back yard this week were: unwillingness to go the extra mile, disagreements, inflexibility, rudeness, despair, hopelessness, resignation…not the prettiest picture of organisational –quasi-familial- life!  When faced with this, my immediate reaction, probably like most managers, was to read the Riot Act because miserable employees make me angry. I subscribe wholeheartedly to Gibran’s philosophy and have low tolerance of those who don’t.  Weighing up my options, however, I concluded that launching into a soliloquy of his wisdom wasn’t one of them and anyway unlikely to have the desired effect as you can’t get engagement from theoretical philosophy, it’s more involved than that.

I do know that how people behave can be a rich source of information, especially when the behaviour is changing or shifting over time.  Just like the two year old child who cries over a minor mishap, you easily reason that she is simply tired. And instead of chastising her for her overreaction you deal with the cause, tiredness and react appropriately by putting her to bed.

So I started to ask ‘What’s up? ‘What’s wrong?’ At first I was met with hostility and defensiveness – think of a two year old child with head down, arms folded, mumbling “nothing” – but eventually the negativity softened, we spoke and things started to feel better. Not solved, not perfect but better and more engaged. You see, when we have to come to work each day, we need to rely on certain things when we get there. And that’s the part of the management agreement. You show up for work and bring your strengths and talents and we will allow you to use them.

We will also work with you, not against you, help you be the best you can be and when you feel pissed off we will listen to you. I’m sure Chris Hadfield would be the first to agree it’s not rocket science and surely the only people getting it right aren’t just the astronauts and the staff at NASA.   Maybe in space no-one can hear you scream but here on terra firma you came in loud and clear.  Roger, Wilco, Over and Out.

STUART WHITE is the Managing Director of HRMC

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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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