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Inspired leadership in public sector attracts CAs(SA)

Feb 27, 2017
Inspired leadership in public sector attracts CAs(SA)

We interviewed the chair of the Training Officer Forum and two trainee chartered accountants [CA(SA)] at the Auditor-General of South Africa (AGSA). The trainees are excited by the scope of their client base, the training offered and their potential career prospects.

Working in the public sector is for pen pushers. The bureaucracy is mind-numbing. This is the perception, but is it accurate? Thandi Mthombeni and Tshegofatso Lutle are CA(SA) trainees at the Auditor-General of South Africa (AGSA). But why work in the public sector? Especially when most graduates gravitate towards the prestige and rewards of the private sector? Today many graduates still hold onto the mistaken notion that the public sector presents a less dynamic work environment.

When, in fact, the scope for professional development in the public sector is endless. 

At first glance the perception might be that it does not seem to be the smartest move. There is enough drama in the government space to rival the longest-running soap on our television screens. But on closer inspection the trainees are eligible for perks which make the AGSA, as the only constitutionally mandated audit firm in the public sector, an attractive proposition.

Their opportunities start from day one. Besides a professional training environment with specific study support initiatives – they get sufficient exposure to ensure they are ready for the world after articles.

Leadership sets the tone

Contrary to what has been the general perception of the public sector, trainees at the Auditor-General commend the organisation for its inspired leadership. “Leadership is really important,” says Lutle. “Inspiring subordinates is what differentiates leaders from managers.”

“Effective leadership is very important for team morale,” adds Mthombeni. “If a team is led by a good leader who values people’s views, gives them an opportunity to learn, and is able to customise their approach on a person by person basis, based on the situation at hand.”

Their training has surpassed their expectations: shaping and challenging their thinking, professionalism and their ability to work as a team without compromising on the quality of their work or ethics.

Auditor of the future

The Auditor-General is seeking to create the auditor of the future. “Having around 1 300 trainee auditors in our learnership is a big achievement,” says Ben-Johan Weideman, senior manager: technical and training officer at the AGSA. “Managing a learnership this size effectively and professionally, is a big task and an accomplishment. Anyone working in human resources, training or overseeing learnerships would appreciate the high level of commitment which a learnership of this magnitude requires.”

Weideman continues: “One of our greatest successes is the study support and how it assists in professionalising the industry. We provide a dedicated study boot camp for trainees with focused lectures in an environment far removed from the day-to-day auditing space they are used to. This is reflected in the 2015 Assessment of Professional Competence (APC) results from SAICA where the Auditor-General produced a high number of candidates.”

Lutle describes the training at the AGSA, as “amazing”. “We are allocated a client portfolio within the public sector, but some clients have private sector characteristics. They are profit-driven public entities.” This tends to foster a mindset among employees that is value-driven and performance-based.   

Mthombeni sees no major distinction between working in the private or public sector based on her conversations with her contemporaries in the private sector. While this is open for debate, as Mthombeni has not worked outside of government, she concludes: “Auditing is auditing irrespective of the audit client. The application of your mind, professional judgement and objectivity is the same.”

“Although our client base isn’t as broad, we acquire a lot of experience as our clients are in different environments (government departments and municipalities). We have a lot to report on, including the financial statements, compliance with key legislation and auditing of performance against pre-determined objectives of our clients.”

Community service 

“The AGSA, through its constitutional mandate, plays an important role in enabling accountability and thus promoting democratic governance in South Africa,” says Weideman. “Because we derive our client base through our mandate and don’t necessarily need to seek them, it requires so much more from us in terms of building public confidence through auditing; to stay committed to professionalism and being a responsible citizen. 

When graduates ask why I work for the AGSA, I tell them: “where else are you going to get paid to deliver your professional duties and deliver a community service, thus making South Africa a better place and building public confidence?

“To explain this in practical terms, you need to look at your clients and the work you do differently and not just as a group of government departments in the public sector. For example, the Gauteng Health Department includes the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, arguably the biggest hospital in the southern hemisphere and third biggest in the world. Now that is exciting!

“We are at the forefront when some of the biggest infrastructure roll-outs, investments and service-delivery contracts take place in the country. We audited The Education Department and its related processes when they introduced tablets to schools. Mining cannot exist without the Department of Mineral Resources. Financial management to deliver basic services at local government level is at the heart of our interest. Think of rhino extinction concerns. We audit South African National Parks.”

The Auditor-General of South Africa has a constitutional responsibility to each and every citizen to strengthen our country’s democracy by enabling oversight, accountability and governance in the public sector through auditing. Working in the public sector is anything but boring.