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Commuting v Computing

I feel that there was a shift at work this week. It might only be my perception and although not seismic, I am sensing the wheels of industry moving again even if only at a slow grind. It’s almost as if after a period of stop and idle at the red robots the lights are about to change and already everyone has re-engaged first gear and is starting to move off – perhaps begining to accept what has happened and adapt to what is coming.

Many of you will have been exposed to change models which illustrate how people respond in times of flux. If not, you will probably be familiar with the grief model from which it was derived. The result of the clinical work of Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross who laid out the steps of grieving that human beings go through during times of loss, it identifies the stages as denial, anger, bargaining, despair and finally, acceptance.

I don’t think anyone would argue that what we are experiencing today feels like a period of loss, even for those who are not grieving over a Covid death. What we have lost may be different from person to person but there are a few losses universal to all of us: our freedoms as we are confined to our homes, the loss of a predictable future, loss of income and the life we left behind, our routines, social gatherings – you know the stuff…omg, remember when you used to be able to go out for a meal? If that now seems like part of a former, far-off life, that’s because it is!

This week, all over Europe, communities are slowly coming back to life, In the UK the newly-elected Leader of the Opposition is clamouring not for an end to restrictions but for roadmap to that end and that’s where I am now going to jump to, in terms of those five stages of grief. As with any period of loss, there comes a time when your thinking will be along the lines of acceptance which may sound like ‘I can’t control this pandemic, but I can do my part by washing my hands, staying positive and  working remotely – doing my best with what I have got’.

The fact that you work remotely and can’t leave your house doesn’t mean you can’t be productive and life has to stop. It’s the new normal – you can work from home, you can still connect with family and friends etc. Your thinking may be to move to more positive thoughts away from recession and job loss to something like ‘the world is going to change for the better, we will be more compassionate, tech savvy, interdependent’ or whatever.

Denial is the intellectual and emotional rejection of something that is clear and obvious. Evolution has created in humans the ability to deny both physical and emotional pain for a short period of time in the service of self-preservation. I think we are all past the denial stage. With COVID-19 denial may have sounded like: ‘This whole thing is so over-dramatised, it’s the same as the ‘flu – people get that all the time. Or, look at the fuss they made of Y2K and that turned out to be a damp squib’. And yes, all of these were mine.

The next stage is anger where we blame others, get angry and hostile and sometimes become unruly and disobedient. We have seen lots of this sometimes from politicians: blaming China – had they quarantined earlier we wouldn’t be having this problem (that’s Trump), the government can’t lock me up and tell me what to do and I’m bored and I’m having a party (you will know people who are here- rebels without a cause thinking they could buck the system.)

The next stage the bargaining phase is when we start to acknowledge our new reality and try to compromise to find an easier, less painful way out and still maintain that we have some level of control. We finally start to work with what we have got which takes me to the subject of online working. It is here that I think most of us may be – it’s certainly where I am. It breaks no rules and still qualifies as work, not play, so long as you stay away from YouTube, eBay or Amazon!

Now this is not an easy place because it is a period of learning and adjusting. Just this week I have been part of an interviewing panel and it can be really challenging as people struggle with online interviews and glitches like children crying in the background or your husband passing behind you with only his underpants on (cue see no evil monkey emoji). We have to formulate a new way of operating online and it’s not second nature for a lot of people, especially if you haven’t been used to remote working. For one thing, it takes a huge amount of self-discipline.

According to a SKY news item the ther day, a judge in Florida has warned lawyers in his county to make sure they get out of bed and dress “appropriately” for online hearings, amid the corona virus pandemic. Apparently said judge wrote an open letter to a Bar Association, saying that he has seen some lawyers appear topless on the video conferencing software, Zoom, as the profession gets used to working from home as a result of the spread of COVID-19.

Judge Bailey said: “We’ve seen many lawyers in casual shirts and blouses, with no concern for ill-grooming, in bedrooms with the master bed in the background. One male lawyer appeared shirtless and one female attorney appeared still in bed, still under the covers. What’s the saying? ‘Only in America?’ Sadly, this time, not.

Make no mistake, this is neither trivial, nor overly fastidious. Many psychologists have been sermonising in the media recently about the need to follow a set routine to maintain both self respect and self-discipline. Preparing for work much as you did pre-pandemic adds to the psychological boost of getting back to work, even if it has to be carried out remotely and beware the old saying ‘if all else fails, lower your standards’!

So understand that while you may not be getting it all right, what you are experiencing is an uncomfortable, new normal which for some may be temporary but for many others will be a permanent shift in work aspects and attitudes. There is an end to all of this but it won’t necessarily take us back to the beginning. Then again, who really wants to spend their life going round in circles?

According to a SKY news item the ther day, a judge in Florida has warned lawyers in his county to make sure they get out of bed and dress “appropriately” for online hearings, amid the corona virus pandemic. Apparently said judge wrote an open letter to a Bar Association, saying that he has seen some lawyers appear topless on the video conferencing software, Zoom, as the profession gets used to working from home as a result of the spread of COVID-19.

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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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