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Botswana’s Got Talent

Stuart White

The World in Black-N-White

I sometimes feel overwhelmed by how little I know and the realization that there is so little time to significantly change that. It sort of feels weird writing that and even acknowledging that I care; I am not a particularly  curious or studious person but there is something unsettling for me feeling that I don’t have all answers on a subject over which I wish total mastery.

My key skills are interviewing techniques and the ability to assess leadership capability yet even now, it is in this area that I feel frustrated in my knowledge gap. I know that you could argue that my ignorance of nuclear physics might be more substantial but as I know almost nothing about plain physics never mind its nuclear counterpart I don’t feel any deficit of knowledge there – I’m happy to leave that to the likes of Leonard and Sheldon. But I am constantly searching the internet for new or revolutionary ways of interviewing or predicting leadership capability to help me to reinvent the wheel or make the old one run smoother, better, faster.

Interviewing is simply a methodology  to try and predict what a person will do in the workplace and their suitability for the job within the organisation – not rocket science, you might think, but we get it wrong so many times. You can spec a machine perfectly to see what it can do and in what conditions but with people we haven’t mastered that yet.

I have spent the best part of a career interviewing or assessing people in some way or another but has this been worthwhile and will it be the way forward? All of this makes me think of the movie Educating Rita which I first saw back in the 80s. Rita is a married hair dresser who is in her 20s and wants to become cultured and educated and so decides to go to college. She starts studying with an alcoholic professor who, despite his cynicism and personal problems, helps Rita realise her academic potential. At one stage the Professor muses “what can I teach you?”  To which she replies “everything”. He responds by saying “All I know, and you must listen to this, is that I know absolutely nothing”.  In his mind, education and culture, the things which Rita yearns for and what he once considered an expressions of a higher or deeper wisdom,  he now sees as a pretentious exercise in futility and of little value .

Have I become like the cynical professor who has lost his way?

One of the biggest problems with the interview is that we try to measure what we consider to be critical competencies – let’s take, for example, decisiveness. This is a standard leadership competency, normally interpreted as a willingness to take decisions even when not having all the relevant information.  But who is to say that this is right? Some managers are quick decision makers and this can produce an array of positive outcomes but just about as many negative ones. 

In some situations deciding quickly may result in the best commercial outcome but in other situations waiting until you have all the relevant information may prove to be more beneficial.  Now there is nothing wrong with testing decisiveness in an interview but it is critical that we see it in context. In other words quick decision making is great but not if the person has poor judgement because then you have the wrong decision. And then what if the person really is a poor decision maker – is that acceptable if they recognize it, and manage the situation by delegating decision making to those better at it? Can you see the dilemma?

The other thing is that we aren’t like photocopiers whose task lacks complexity when it is required to spit out 60 colour copies per minute (same way every time with the same outcome). We may decide to produce 20 now for immediate use, stop production to deal with a crisis, maintain the machine’s functioning before doing another 20 before opting to hold off on the printing of the remaining pages because of new information emerging that the price of toner and paper will be lowered tomorrow. Unlike the copier we have choice and the ability to think – should I make a decision quickly or in this instance is a slower more meditated approach best?

To muddy the water further, add the statistic that 81% of people lie during interviews, if you are to believe Ron Friedman the author of The Best Place to Work. He says the nature of the interview creates the condition where people are being dishonest – because they have to if they want to get the job. Now I am not saying that people lie outright but let’s say you are being interviewed. If I ask you about a skill you don't have, and it's pretty clear that if you admit that you don't have that skill, you aren’t going to get the job, the only option you have is to talk around it and give the interviewer – your potential boss – a false impression and the result of that is consistently getting spoon-fed dishonest answers.

But then I think even if you were getting 100% honest answers in an interview from a job candidate, there's a real question about whether the interviewing panel, which is how we mostly do things here, can accurately evaluate the person sitting in front of them, when you consider all the unconscious biases we have and which have been well documented in studies – for example ppeople who speak with a deeper or lower-pitched voice are viewed as possessing greater strength, integrity, and trustworthiness – FACT!

I find that I want to replace the interview with harder more reliable data – testing is one way – as it is harder to argue with a score for numeracy than to say I am good at reading a balance sheet . Friedman's argues that we should disrupt the HR process of live, in-person interviews and replace them with "job auditions" which are relevant to the tasks for the job. He argues that this makes sense: musicians and singers have to audition; actors have to audition. The people employing them don't sit down and dart scripted questions their way. They want to see them play, sing, perform. Doesn't it make sense to audition a prospective employee for the same reasons, before they sign an offer letter?

So in future if you get a call from HRMC to attend an interview – don’t expect the normal testing for decisiveness – we will take our cue from those reality talent shows and challenge you to sing, dance and act your new part and only after that will we be ready to announce the cast.

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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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