One of my first jobs was as a supermarket cashier, a job that I was not only good at but which I loved. My kids always get a giggle at this reference as I suspect they would rather be run over by a bus than checkout anybody’s groceries, never mind seek enjoyment from it but I loved the idea of business and of being a part of it, even a supermarket one, and got a huge thrill and sense of satisfaction from providing customer service.
I believed deeply in what I was doing which was accurately ringing up customers’ goods quickly and efficiently while making the customer feel appreciated. When there were queues at the checkout I would work faster as I didn’t want to make the customer wait… my quest to beat the queues and provide service felt purposeful and almost noble. I had been taught from a young boy to work VERY hard and not let my parents down… my work was a reflection on them. I was trained well!
Fast forward some 40 years and last week I arrived at a local bank 10 minutes before opening time, mindful that ‘the early bird catches the worm’. Unfortunately this thinking is not evident in the banks’ staff who not only opened the doors a few minutes late (despite an obvious queue outside) but when I arrived at the service counters there was no one at the work stations – ‘open’ is apparently not the same as ‘open for business’. Ever so slowly the wheels started turning and eventually there were four desks being manned where I, along with 3 of our other senior managers, all of whom having been summoned to complete paperwork required to change account signatories, were subjected to an hour long wait whilst staring at a sign whose message ‘how can we help you?’ was more of a taunt than a serious question since what we witnessed was a group of people completely uninterested in our answer.
I don’t often get to watch bad service for any length of time, mainly for two reasons: Firstly I avoid places where I am likely to encounter it and secondly when I come face to face with it, I tend to walk away. In this instance neither was an option. Being at the bank was a task which had to be done and because I had limited time, having a flight to catch a few hours later, I was quite eager to experience speed and efficiency, not sit watching slow motion service where staff were more interested in communicating with each other than bothering with customers. Everything was wrong on all levels and I won’t bore you with all of the details of: bank employees’ inefficiency, staff’s disinterest in us customers, inability to multi-task, staffs’ preoccupation with stringent company rules and regulations (some of which didn’t make any sense) and an unwillingness to try anything so that customers could be processed timeously and I could make my flight. I left the bank one and a half hours after arriving with the only thing achieved was that a photocopy of my passport had been taken and I signed a specimen signature card. And the process is still not complete because despite visiting the bank the previous day to find out EXCACTLY what would be required, there are other documents to be provided which will require yet more trips. All in all and at every level, it was a really poor, exasperating customer service experience.
Let me acknowledge that I know that hardly anyone likes going to the bank and doing admin chores but sometimes needs must and when you get there you really don’t want to have an experience that makes an already tedious and tiresome task worse. It wasn’t the slowness or archaic-ness of the service that got to me although for this day and age it felt out of sync with our digital capabilities to witness so much stamping and hand writing, not to mention what it all means for the Brazilian rainforest. The thing that bothered me most was how completely ignored and dismissed we were. With no managers in sight one of our team walked up and down asking for help and explaining the time constraint we had (bear in mind that we had been waiting for 50 minutes already); in exasperation we were telephoning in to the branch (which is also the head office) as it seemed it may be easier to find a manger that way. When we did eventually get someone to help us the person couldn’t have been less friendly and looked as if he had been trained in KGB interrogation techniques to uncover customer fault and errors as he viewed our company resolution with doubt bordering on outright suspicion as we stood before him.
So what is going on in this organisation which misses the point that at the core of the business is its customers? And what is going on in the staff bubble which completely ignores the customer component of the business and makes a simple task complicated beyond belief? The lack of care – not one manger on the floor, no one remotely interested in making sure the business opens on time or that staff were on duty and absolutely no attention to speed and efficiency.
I blame management because the buck has to stop there. It is management who not only sets the standards but also defends and enforces them; and attitude, intention and commitment are a standard expectation when it comes to customer service but I don’t think the staff got this at all. I am sure the staff has an induction programme and customer experience is invariably covered there but that’s just lip service if you don’t see passion and fervour from management on customer service (which they can hardly display if they aren’t around). Customer service is not an option and neither is the training of its staff and here’s my message – if you don’t get it right I will be moving but then given all the above, they probably won’t care, if they even notice.
Does this tale have a happy ending? Well, yes and no. I did make my flight albeit only because SA express was running 6 hours late (that’s right – nearly a whole day) and you can imagine what my mood was like when I received that news. But here’s the rub. It was a poor show but at least it was bad service with a smile; and at least I felt visible and acknowledged which, together with staff’s apologies, after the morning I had, I felt grateful – almost!
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.
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.
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.