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INTERVIEW: Boosting accountancy profession

Rachel Grimes is the President of International Federation of Accountants (IFAC), the global umbrella body for all accountants. The Independent’s Julius Businge spoke to her at the opening of the five day 4th Africa Congress of Accountants (ACOA) held in Kampala from May 2-5.  

How important is this meeting to accountants and the people of Africa?

This is the fourth time we are having such a meeting with over 1000 participants from Uganda and beyond. The previous meetings were held in Mauritius in 2015, Ghana in 2013 and Kenya in 2011. We are now looking at bigger issues regarding technology, professional standards, human resource development, public sector accountability, corruption and good governance among others. All these issues are directly linked to what accountants do and how they support multinational corporations and governments to account and manage resources.

To what extent did the previous meetings meet your expectations?

We wouldn’t be here for the fourth meeting if the previous ones were hopeless. We take notes, come up with recommendations and engage responsible entities on issues discussed. We normally bring together chief executives and business leaders, accounting and finance professionals, tax experts, investment experts, consultants, policy and standards’ setters, legislators and representatives of professional accountancy organisations to deliberate on challenges and opportunities of the industry, and how to go about them. We have to a greater extent been successful.

It is almost half a year since you became president of this highly respected global association; what has struck you most? 

Interestingly…I always work and do the right things. The members are hardworking and supporting the work of IFAC. They have commitment and are eager to make things happen. I am happy to see our members discussing issues of great importance.

There have been issues regarding corruption, incompetence, human resource gaps which all compromise the work of accountants. What structures does IFAC have to handle these issues at international level?     

We are addressing these issues through various meetings. Our ethics are key to our success and our professionals know that. The profession continues to attract young talent and retaining experienced ones.

We have over 2.8 million professional accountants across the world. Africa and Middle East have a combined total of 126,000 professionals. This number should grow.   Our profession is worth joining. There are cases in many countries where some members have been blacklisted from practicing because of issues related to professional misconduct. Our members are aware of penalties involved. They are careful and try to do a good job.

In line with the theme for this year’s meeting; Accountability and accountancy: transforming Africa’s economies. What is your analysis about the contribution of the accountancy profession to transformation of African economies?

World over accountants are nation builders and engines of economic growth and transformation. They are adopting high technology to spearhead public sector accountability through promoting international financial reporting standards. This promotes good governance that fights corruption. We give professional advice to multinationals and governments regarding their financial performance. This creates room for improvement which is linked to policies that government’s use to transform economies.

Similar to the above question, what critical issues are you focusing on during your term in office as IFAC President?       

I don’t want to say that they are different…technology, technology, technology. Professional ethics and standards is what I want. Collaboration with relevant entities of the profession is another thing. Building capacity of young talent is critical. Promoting transparency in our work is important. I believe that when we do the right things we will give confidence to those wanting to invest their money everywhere in the world.

Some people say women are good managers. As a president of IFAC, what skills are you using to handle these issues?    

I listen a lot to many voices. I learned this from school – University. You cannot think of solutions to problems before you listen. I understand where the problem is and manage it accordingly. This skill builds a team that works with one voice. That voice serves as an engine for growth in any institution.

What is the future outlook of accountancy and finance in relation to economic growth of economies where IFAC is present?   

The governments that we serve for example in Africa have policy agendas. There is Agenda 2063 which is a strategic framework under the African Union working on many things including education, infrastructure, information and communication technologies, tourism, financial sector stability, peace and security, agriculture etc. The companies and governments that we serve need our work in these areas. They will continue to use our professional advice to make key investment decisions. We will continue to serve as referees to those promoting economic growth and prosperity in these key areas. We are seeing many young people enrolling in the profession. What is necessary is to build their capacity in relation with the ethics and standards needed for our work.

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