The role of professional accountants in the coronavirus fight

Kigali– The Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic has continued to ravage the world with more infection cases increasing by the day.

Countries across the world including Rwanda have taken emergency measures to prevent and contain the virus from further spreading.

 

Among the measures include instructions for people to stay at home so that they stay safe, frequently washing hands with soap, using hand sanitizers, maintaining physical distance from one another of at least a metres

 

The Ministry of Health also introduced an emergency toll-free number 114 through which people can call in case of any symptoms among other measures.

 

In a similar vein, all big gatherings, sports events, concerts, travels, and other activities were either cancelled or postponed.

These decisions will affect trade and commerce, tourism, agriculture, productivity and other sectors of the economy.

The impact to the economy is likely to be cross cutting and the accountant’s role, like any other profession, therefore becomes imperative in this regard.

While it appears too early to assess the economic impact of the pandemic in Rwanda – though we know it is already haunting us – it is absolutely profound to concentrate on the virus itself – since the lives and health of people are more critical at this point in time, than its impact.

Nonetheless, several experts, including the European authorities, have already started discussions around adopting some measures as regards to international standards adherence particularly IFRS 9 Financial Instruments, to relax its application specifically on bad loans management resulting from some banks that have been severely hit due to the outbreak.

The National Bank of Rwanda (NBR) recently issued measures to mitigate the economic impact of COVID-19.

BNR requested commercial banks to ease loan repayment conditions to borrowers affected by the pandemic, encouraged the use of digital and contactless mobile avenues and announced Rwf50 billion stimulus to boost liquidity in the banking system.

For the accountancy profession, the potential impact does not only lie under the international financial reporting standards but also audit considerations.

While all this is happening, auditors are expected to enhance the quality of financial reporting and ensure audit quality by specifically considering a potential disclosure of subsequent events where applicable (IAS 10: Events after the Reporting Period) and also, whether the audited entity can continue operating as a going concern (ISA 570, Going Concern) among other considerations, especially now that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has officially declared a global economic recession.

Consequently, the role of professional accountants in such an environment of increasing challenges should therefore involve among other things:

Regular communication with their stakeholders including staff, members and students by sharing live updates and Government responses to Covid -19, whilst engaging them with some heart-warming stories as well as preparing them to remain active, thereby contributing to a prompt recovery pathway preparation;

Encourage members to contribute to the formalisation of clear response plans involving all the relevant stakeholders with clear articulation of their roles and responsibilities. This should not only look at management, but should also be extended to those charged with governance;

Support members to engage and assess their own and clients’ current impact on the company’s operational, financial, and strategic plans.

Most importantly is the need to show leadership in such times by responding positively, not panicking or overreacting over challenges,  but rather keeping calm by demonstrating empathy and remaining optimistic that this crisis shall also pass.

Professional accountants especially practitioners should equally stand ready to assist anyone anywhere by extending their expert advice specifically to the small and medium sized enterprises as they are more likely to have a less financial buffer, which makes them more vulnerable to such shocks, than their counterparts.

Similarly, as the Government strives to manage the health crisis caused by Covid -19, as this appears to be the right thing to do with economic recovery considered secondary, accountants too, should lay a hand by sharing and interpreting the healthy guidelines to their peers, staff, relatives, neighbours, clients, among others.

In turbulent and exceptional times such as the ones we are in, the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) technologies become a reality.

Likewise, as coronavirus has significantly changed how individuals and entities operate, it therefore requires both individuals and organisations to adapt, innovate and nurture their strategic thinking approaches such that this situation can be successfully managed.

Most people especially town dwellers appear to have responded well to the NBR call, now that almost all activities having moved digitally, and citizens have continued to access them; directly supports the Government’s ambitious goal of becoming a cashless economy by 2024.

To effectively manage the current situation, embracing technology through virtual operations as the game changer appears to be the only way to demonstrate agility especially in the era of the 4IR, which has transformed how we communicate, work and live.

As argued by IFAC that, “what was once a nice-to-have is now a must-have,” further places the emphasis for PAOs going digital not only by just preparing for remote working in case of an emergency, but also considering implementing an online Continuous Professional Development (CPDs) platform - for those that are yet to - for their members as part of a lifelong learning policy; implement e-learning; and deliver Computer Based Exams (CBEs), among other initiatives.

Like the 4IR which requires businesses, governments, and other stakeholders to work together in order to improve the state of the world; so, requires all economies across the world to work together to confront the Covid-19 pandemic.

Coronavirus is real. Please follow the official guidelines to contain further spread. Stay safe, stay home!

The author is the Director of Professional Development Services Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Rwanda (ICPAR).

The views expressed in this article are of the author.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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