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The public sector needs trainee accountants that make a difference

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The public sector provides trainee accountants with a diverse range of opportunities to hone their skills.

There is usually minimal interest from accounting students to pursue careers as CAs(SA) in the public sector, especially in a government department. I did not plan to serve articles at National Treasury, however, my being in the public sector is definitely not by accident. Generally, the public sector is viewed in a negative light due to public perception about the mismanagement of funds.

This perception highlights a public sector that is characterised by politics, low opportunities for growth and learning, and scarce innovative thinking. Despite the perceived risks posed by joining the public sector, I saw an opportunity to make a difference. Government institutions currently do not have a consistent financial reporting framework.

For example, National Treasury uses the Modified Cash basis for reporting (issued by National Treasury), while there are other institutions that use Generally Recognised Accounting Practices (GRAP) issued by the Accounting Standards Board.

Others still are using International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). It is a continuous challenge for the training office and trainees to keep abreast of the developments in all these frameworks as they occur. The different reporting frameworks present a significant challenge for me as a trainee as I am expected to help the CFO’s office with reporting on Modified Cash, a framework that I was never exposed to prior to joining National Treasury. When rotating to the office of the Accountant-General, there is a shift in focus to supporting institutions with technical interpretation issues around IFRS and GRAP.

The multiple reporting frameworks require a lot of dedication to ensure that one is always up to date with new developments, and this demand is contrary to what one would generally expect from the public sector.

Upon realising that credible exposure is required for trainees to become capable CAs(SA), we participate in activities aimed at improving the programme. Trainees meet regularly to discuss the rotation plans, the exposure from different assignments, and to identify areas that require improvements, along with the role that we will play in bringing about change.

National Treasury partners with other organisations such as Public Investment Corporation, Industrial Development Corporation and the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) to provide trainees with practical competencies that are unavailable within the department. During my articles I was seconded to SARS for practical skills in taxation.

I have been with the National Treasury for a relatively short period in terms of being able to promote the department. My views are therefore based on my experiences. I now have an idea of how government works, of why certain programmes are implemented, and the extent to which South Africans rely on government to shape their lives in a better way.

You must be passionate about people to fully comprehend why it is important to have a functional public sector. It is also my view that the role the public sector must play in the economy has been elevated, following the recent global financial crisis. Only a capable public sector will be able to fulfil this role. The public sector needs more financial leaders who are not only “gurus” in finance, but who are also inspired to be part of the broader solution for South Africa.

When deciding whether you are the right person to join the Public Sector CA Training Programme, I would like you to think about these words by Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, chairperson of the African Union Commission, when highlighting that Africa’s time is now: “What makes us so confident that Africa’s time has arrived and that we can achieve our dream within 50 years, or even less?

Six of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies are African, and the continent has been growing at an average of 5% per annum for over a decade, despite the global financial and economic crisis. We have a growing, vibrant, resourceful and youthful population who are being equipped with critical skills that would be necessary to drive Africa’s transformation.” The public sector provides such an opportunity for every young person. ❐

Author: Sipho Langa is a second year Trainee Accountant at the National Treasury

– CAA Programme.

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