How do we streamline financial management at municipal level so that we address the problem of qualified audits? We simple answer is to provide chartered accountants to serve these municipalities  – to grow one’s own timber so to speak. By Yuven Gounden

When the then KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Finance, Ina Cronjé, entered into a partnership with the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) by making a R16 million investment – over a four-year period commencing in 2013 – in the Thuthuka Bursary Fund (TBF), she had a vision of getting chartered accountants to assist with financial management at municipalities in the province.

The main objective of this initiative is to improve the financial management capacity at municipal level. This would enable municipalities to better manage their budgets and, consequently, achieve clean audit reports.

The project started at the grassroots level: enterprising learners who passed their finance and accounting-related studies at school level were recruited from all 61 municipal areas in KwaZulu-Natal to study towards chartered accountancy at various tertiary institutions. Ideally these youngsters would return, upon qualification, to their homes and serve their communities in financial management positions.

Cronjé’s rationale of investing in the TBF programme is the result of its consistent good performance over the years. The TBF overall pass rate for 2014 was 76%, and four of the eight TBF-accredited universities achieved pass rates higher than the TBF overall pass rate.

Overall, TBF students have performed very well since the inception of the programme. The average pass rate over the years per year of study is as follows: 1st year: 85%, 2nd year: 75% and 3rd year: 69%. The high quality of students attracted by the programme has resulted in positive achievements at the end of every year.

This partnership with SAICA will eventually result in the KZN Provincial Treasury being accredited as a training office for chartered accountants in that province.

Chantyl Mulder, Executive Director: Nation Building at SAICA, said: ‘Until this project started, we did not have any partnerships with provinces on skills development in the area of financial management and we are working on extrapolating this project to other provinces. We believe other provinces should follow the example of KZN if we are to address the skills shortage in our country.’

The CEO of SAICA, Terrence Nombembe, said the province of KwaZulu-Natal has shown they have identified the problem and sought a solution through the TBF programme.

‘Our government needs the skills for our municipalities and provincial government departments. I am happy that KwaZulu-Natal has taken a leadership role in terms improving the skills that we need to move forward as a country,’ he said.

Leslie Simiso Magagula, head of department of KZN Treasury, is equally committed to the project. He has the interest of students at heart owing to his own teaching background, and he keeps a proverbial hawk’s eye on the province’s finances. This project will see a projected 100 students working side by side with him to streamline financial matters even further.

‘We at KZN Treasury saw a gap that newly trained CAs(SA) can fill. Furthermore, we embrace the ideal of developing the profession and supporting African and coloured students to become CAs(SA) so that we address the issue of skills shortage as well as transformation of the profession,’ he says. ‘SAICA agrees with our vision of bridging the gap of poor students in rural areas, and also capacitating rural municipalities in our province. The TBF has a robust system of selection and a proven track record of success.  We cherish the hope that these CAs(SA) will work in the province and also at those municipalities where there is a need for skills.’

Magagula continues: ‘We participated in this scheme because we can grow our own timber. Once this project gathers momentum, we see our partnership and further investment as being sustainable in the long term, and I encourage my counterparts in the other provinces to invest in this fabulous initiative.’

Nokubonga Tshabalala (19) was a top-performing TBF student with a score of 78%. He hails from Empangeni and attended Felixton College, which is situated in the village with the same name.

‘I have always been interested in a career as a chartered accountant. I find that working for a municipality offers me more challenges than working in a corporate environment. It will be good to help my community and give something back to my people. The University of Pretoria teaches me far more than I need to know, and I feel empowered. As the youngest child in the family, I am proud that I did not need to be pushed after my twin brothers completed their studies and are now working. I am also happy that I am going back home, unlike my brothers who are working in Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces. I feel that I have been given a great opportunity by KNZ Treasury and TBF. Thuthuka is involved in our daily lives and supports us in all ways possible. Sonnette Smith and the Thuthuka support staff at UP make a huge difference in my life,’ says Tshabalala.

Thobani Mhlongo is 19 years old, attended Umlazi Comtech High School, and is currently in his second year at the University of the Witwatersrand.

‘I was introduced to the profession of chartered accountant by Xolela Sohuma when he visited my school. I did not study accounting at school and I did not know what a chartered accountant does. I became interested in this career because, in my community, this was something different. I find the TBF programme at Wits to be very helpful. TBF Coordinator Khaya Sithole provides great support and assistance to us. Thuthuka support and networking is a great support programme and we are all family at the university. My mother also values education and has been a pillar of strength to me. The trick is to have a healthy balance of clean fun and solid work. This is a wonderful programme.’

Mhlongo is the youngest of a family of seven. He grew up in Empangeni and studied in Umlazi. His mother was able to raise the family by means of social grants. His greatest support and motivation came from his sister, Sphindile, who was able to complete her electrical engineering diploma against all odds. She is currently doing her internship at Eskom.

‘KZN Treasury afforded me the opportunity of becoming a chartered accountant and I would like to go back and serve my community. There is a need to help small municipalities and I would be honoured to repay my debt to KZN Treasury,’ says Mhlongo.

South Africa is a country with great potential and good citizens. If we can grow our economy and create a bright working future for skilled generations to follow, the people of our nation will stand a better chance to enjoy a quality lifestyle. In order to achieve this goal and prevent service delivery protests, we as a country need to ensure that our municipalities function like well-oiled machinery. One of the key factors to ensure this happens is proper financial management. A CA(SA) is equipped with the skills to ensure that this prerequisite is met. The partnership between SAICA and KZN Treasury heralds the way to the optimal use of financial resources – and a quality life for all.

View the students and the HOD: KZN Treasury at https://www.youtube.com/user/TheSAICA/videos

Author: Yuven Gounden is Project Manager: Communication and Marketing, Communication and Marketing at SAICA