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The long way home

Stuart White

The World in Black-N-White

My daughter has a legal tussle with her employer, now ex-employer. It’s no surprise that it has got to this stage because this is an employer with ‘adversarial’ in their corporate DNA. How else would you explain that when she requested a breakdown of her termination monies this was done through a lawyer?  It was only an enquiry and a perfectly reasonable one at that! When she resigned they were so miffed that they told her not to bother working her notice period and the relationship quickly soured. 

It was an unprofessional, knee-jerk reaction in response to feeling rejected, I guess, although this emotional style of managing and disregard for employees has characterised her experience.  She has been treated awfully, they have refused to pay her the correct termination money and right now, foremost in her mind is not wanting them to feel as if they have won. I told her “they can’t have won because they lost you”. My parental advice is simple – take the moral high road.

I try to preach being guided by a moral compass, which is about core values and personal ethics. Taking the high road means you can look yourself in the mirror and be satisfied about the way that you have behaved in difficult situations. It means that you recognise your ability to want to respond reactively with nasty behaviour but consciously choose a different response. The first time I came across the high road was from the lyrics of the Scottish folk song ‘The Bonnie Bonnie Banks o' Loch Lomond of which the chorus goes like this
Ye'll tak' the high road and I'll tak the low roadʉ۬And I'll be in Scotland afore yeʉ۬But me and my true love will never meet againʉ۬On the bonny, bonny banks of Loch Lomond

It’s a bitter-sweet story of lost love and the importance of home and although I never fully understood the song, my very young mind understood that there were two roads and if you took the high one, and another took the low one then I would get to my destination, in this case Scotland, quicker. It was a no brainer then that my first paradigm of traversing the landscape was to take the shorter of the two paths – the low road in order to reach my destination as soon as possible.  There is, of course, a metaphorical and even metaphysical, sub-meaning to the lyrics relating to the journey of life, offering a moral high road and a primaeval low road which is clear to me now, though it wasn’t then.

Throughout my life it seems that road metaphors have been presenting to influence and shape me: from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’s tale when Alice comes to a fork in the road and sees the enigmatic Cheshire cat in a tree. ‘Which road do I take?’ she asks. ‘Where do you want to go?’ the cat replies ‘I don’t know,’ Alice answers. ‘Then’, said the cat, ‘it doesn’t matter.”  I learnt from this that if you don’t know or don’t mind where you are going, any road will take you there;   yet another is illustrated in the meaningful and determining book, Scott W Peck’s classic The Road Less Travelled which champions the old-fashioned values of honesty, hard work, discipline and integrity – hence the title, a quote from poet Robert Frost.

Despite this I still have private wars with myself debating taking the high road or a very low road smattered with signposts along the way saying, ‘fight’, ‘revenge’ and ‘pay-back time’.  Today I am facing one such conflict where my primal instincts to avenge have been ignited making me want to go for my opponent’s jugular, set fire to his house and light matchsticks under his finger nails. Apparently, I am not alone within this response – another great book references such behaviour when the protagonist said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay.

In due time their foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them”. The good book will tell you that God was speaking of the stiff-necked, rebellious, idolatrous Israelites who rejected Him and incurred His wrath with their wickedness. So, if the Lord Almighty can slip-up and take the low road on occasion, I guess that’s some sort of validation for my own warped thinking from time to time.

Revenge has a sort of therapeutic feel to it – to let off some steam and anger and give someone a taste of their own medicine. It is appealing when you feel wronged to want to level the playing field and get even. But it is such a short-term, lose/lose view. I have been tried and tested on this road and I can tell you it’s bumpy and full of pot holes with no advantages. I was most tested during my divorce which was an ugly affair full of inflated ego, fear and revenge – a deadly mix – with both my self and my ex-wife being on the low-road.

There was just so much pain and suffering with our break up that we could only see one road – retrospectively I wish that I had done that all so differently – she does as well. We are great friends today because we have now mended our fences but in hindsight I recognise the waste and short-sightedness of it all.

We take the low road when we stop thinking, when we react with instinct and not insight. We take the low road when we don’t care about people and we don’t comprehend our connectedness as human beings. It’s true that the high road has less traffic and that when we are on it we often feel the low road is calling but that is what life is about – restraint and discipline and exercising good choices.

It’s a lesson that I have to remind myself everyday and one that I am trying to teach my kids, because at the end of my life I want to be able to say like the poet Robert Frost ‘Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference’. And what advice for my daughter? 'Revenge is a dish best served cold' my darling, so exact yours by just going forward and being fabulous!

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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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