I was quite heartened recently to receive a letter from one of our members who was optimistic about both South Africa and the chartered accountancy profession.
Mr Guy Addison, a CA(SA) based partly in Cape Town and partly in Dubai on account of business obligations, was responding to an article written by another CA(SA) based in Australia, who was condescending about South Africa and, amongst other things, the government’s black economic empowerment (BEE) policies.
Mr Addison’s argument was that many white accountants often reason that affirmative action is just another difficulty on the road to success in South Africa. I agree with Mr Addison’s views that this reasoning pales in comparison to the stark reality of the skills shortage in our country.
Speaking from experience, he added that prejudice or preference for certain attributes over just pure talent is everywhere – not just in South Africa.
Most of us are by now aware that research conducted by SAICA has revealed that the financial and accounting sector needs more than 22 000 accountants (technician and chartered accountant level) to deal with the skills shortage that is currently hemorrhaging our country.
One of the answers to addressing the skills shortage is for all the professional accountancy bodies and their members to tackle this issue collaboratively. No accountancy body or any single grouping of individuals on its own can solve this problem. In tandem, addressing the skills shortage, as it relates to the accountancy profession, means ensuring there are solid technical accounting and managerial skills as well as ensuring that accountants have leadership qualities.
It is pleasing to note that South Africa is a good exporter of skills and that people go abroad to acquire and share skills. However, we need to find a way of getting these skills back into the country and at the same time find ways of bridging the skills gap with the rather small number of suitable skills that we currently have.
On a more pleasant note, Ryan Forbes, Manager at Hays GlobaLink in South Africa, says the global recession has had a deeper impact on the UK than South Africa, and the number of South African chartered accountants residing in the UK that are looking to move back has now increased by 50%.
He says that, although South Africa has not been as badly affected, competition is still intense for CAs(SA) looking to return home. “While the financial services sector in South Africa is still steadily recruiting, employers have become much more selective and, although UK experience is valid, they prefer to recruit accountants with South African and African market experience.” He also says companies in South Africa are currently recruiting for a number of infrastructure roles, for example, management accountants, fund accountants, business analysts and internal auditors are all sought after.
Meanwhile, SAICA is actively talking to other accounting bodies and government role players to look at what kind of public-private partnerships can be entered into to develop pertinent skills and to attract people with appropriate skills and knowledge back into the country.
An example of this is the Association of Accounting Technicians [AAT(SA)] programme, a partnership between SAICA and the UK-based AAT, to address the crucial skills shortage in South Africa’s private and public sectors. Through the AAT(SA), a Local Government Accounting Certificate (LGAC) programme was recently launched to improve financial management and reporting as well as to boost accounting skills within government departments.
The programme is currently being rolled out in a number of provincial government departments. By the end of the year, the programme will have equipped more than 2 500 government employees in various provinces with relevant accounting skills. As the programme progresses, it will be interesting to see how it contributes to an improvement in service delivery in various government departments.
The less than adequate quality of local government accounting, as constantly reported on by the Auditor General, can be dramatically improved if Local Government’s employees are equipped with the relevant skills.
It is without a doubt that all citizens want reassurance that South Africa remains a place of infinite opportunities. SAICA aggressively encourages its members to acquire international skills and knowledge, but at the same time uses the appeal of the story of the CA(SA) designation and that of South Africa through a partnership with SA The Good News, a website and publishing organisation that highlights South Africa’s progress, positive developments and solutions to some of the challenges facing the country. This will hopefully play a positive role in encouraging CAs(SA) to return home and plough their skills and knowledge into the development of our much loved country, because the CA(SA) designation is one penned by men and women that are not afraid of challenges and change.
Therefore, before you start packing and leaving our winning nation for good; do not let the presence of corruption, crime and various business challenges eclipse our considerable achievements as a nation and a highly reputable and credible profession. A positive perspective will always see a burgeoning spirit step up to challenges and make a contribution to the future of South Africa and the CA profession.
Nazeer Wadee CA(SA), is Chief Operations Officer, SAICA.