Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee last week began public hearings that saw heads of several parastatals and institutions appear to respond to queries raised in the recent Auditor General’s report. Among the challenges that featured strongly in last week’s hearings was skills gap in accounting and audit processes. This, experts say, could have seen public funds unaccounted for. The New Times’ Collins Mwai spoke to Bosco Karake Mkombozi, the President of the Institute of Certified Public Accountants (ICPAR) on the state of accounting in the country.
Parliament is currently scrutinising issues captured in the Auditor General’s report. From your viewpoint, what can be done to address the long-standing issues of accountability in several public institutions?
The first pillar toward national development goals is accountability. The Government has pushed the concept of accounting in the process of development. In a sense, government has suffered whereby they train and the private sector poaches.
The Auditor General is on record saying that agencies and institutions that have hired accountants who are our members (certified accountants) have improved in that regard and can be reflected in their audit opinion.
Taking a step back, a lot of things that are wrong in many of the institutions that have been cited in the Auditor General’s report and appeared before Public Accounts Committee, its often basic accounting errors and omissions.
That is why we are pushing the idea of certified public accounting technicians. It is our strong belief that we need more certified public accounting technicians than certified accountants.
It is logical because if you think of a doctor in theatre, they need more support than professionals at their level. Technicians will ensure that all records are properly kept and can be used for audit process.
We have an agenda to push and we will soon have an agreement with Workforce Development Authority to have certified public accounting technicians (CATs) have a technical course to ensure we have certain skills. If we can deploy CATs in all agencies, then we can graduate from basic problems and begin to pursue strategic goals.
We have been negotiating and appealing to government and they seem very positive about it that technicians would solve some of these issues. We have been given a mandate that by 2021, we should have produced at least 2,000 accounting technicians.
What have you found to be the most common challenges from Auditor General’s reports and where do we start in addressing them?
Most times when the Auditor General’s report is released, our members scrutinise it to establish key trends and issues. Normally we tailor continuous professional development programmes for people in government to deal with main concerns.
The big parastatals and agencies, in my opinion, there are also management issues and concerns. Accountants everywhere want to protect their reputation.
I would also advise PAC that the next time they review status and progress, they should also look at issues previously raised and progress towards resolving them.
PAC can direct the Auditor General that for specific institutions, we want a report annually and a status update on progress to turn around things.
What is the status of accounting in Rwanda in regards to the number of accountants vis a vis the demand?
We do not have enough accountants in the country. The history of the country is part of the reason we do not have enough because the phenomenon of professional accountants was not common.
Luckily, over time, we have had people returning from the Diaspora who are knowledgeable in the field. Then we set up an Institute of Certified Professional Accountants in 2008.
To see the magnitude of the shortage if you look at Rwanda’s pursuits of becoming a financial services hub, investments hub among others, we do not have the right numbers.
If you look at Mauritius, for every 525 people in the country, one is a professional accountant; in the UK, for every 222 people one is an accountant; in Australia, it is one in every 160 people; in Singapore it is one in 190 people.
But in Rwanda, for every 30,250, people one is a professional accountant, assuming that we have 400 accountants. That means we are including all, whether registered or not, citizens and non-citizens.
Realistically you can set a target and say that, in the next 10 years, you can have at least one in every 5,000, that would put us on the right path.
Has this given rise to malpractice and operations by non-professionals pretending to be accounts?
It is almost a natural case; one of the problems we have is people masquerading as professional accountants. To be a professional accountant, one must be trained by a body recognised by the international body of accountants and you also must be a member of that body.
Training without certification does not make you a professional accountant.
Once you are a member of a professional body, you have continuous professional development annually. For anything that brings the profession in disrepute, we have rules that define the actions thereby taken.
The sanctions for errant members may include being sent back for training or being kicked out of the profession. We have many accountants who qualified by doing the exams but are not active in their parent member bodies and hence have since stopped becoming professional accountants.
We also have people the public thinks are professional accountants but are not. There are also cases, for example in the local private sector, where they do not value professional accounting services.
If you speak to most of them, they will tell you that they only do audits because they are mandated to have audits, mainly those with annual turnover above Rwf400 million.
Such people often pick anybody as their accountant and always prefer the cheapest.
Incidentally, if you go for the lower price, you are likely to be in trouble. There is a chance that we have undisciplined accountants who have not been reported to us by our clients.
You mentioned what seems like a severe shortage of professionals, what are some of the remedies to this?
Part of our strategy 2016-2021 addresses that. We are quite a young institute, we make 10 years next year and we had our first examination in 2012. For the first time, we had 19 people qualify in one sitting which doubled all the people who had sat in the previous years.
Fast forward today, we have over 1,700 students, of which about 1,500 are pursuing CPA.
The main strategy is that in partnership with government who are the main drivers of policy, we shall be defining jobs which somebody cannot have unless you have CPA or CAT competencies.
Once those have been defined, it will improve the number of people seeking to qualify.
We also have roadshows in universities and secondary schools to showcase what pursuing a career in the field can open up to. Among this is that you can work in any industry and the broadness of opportunities.
You also mentioned increased use of non-professional by the private sector, can this be fixed? How?
There is engagement of stakeholders whereby we have had agreements with different bodies and people. We are in discussions with the Private Sector Federation to have a forum to ease how we communicate to their people on the importance of hiring a certified accountant.
One of the things that the public ought to be aware of is that an auditor, before we license them annually, must have professional indemnity. It is a requirement.
With that, if you think this guy wronged you, you can raise that with our institute, we can advise you to go to court and get your claim. If they cannot pay you back for losses, his indemnity should pay you.
We are also ensuring that our members are doing the right thing through audit quality assurances. We review our auditors at least once every three years on the basis of their work.
If the inspection commission finds faults, they are referred to a disciplinary committee which looks at possible interventions.
What disciplinary provision does the law prescribe in addressing malpractices?
Incidentally, the law only allows us to discipline and punish our own members but if a rogue accountant is out there claiming to be CPA and they are not, we can only report it to Police as a criminal offence.
As for companies and firms hiring accountants and auditors, they should ensure that the individuals are registered. If they are found to have committed fraud or malpractice, we will deploy the resources of the institute to investigate whether it is true or not with intention of disciplining the individual.
Is there any way to ensure that your members remain relevant with the changing trends within the sector?
Our members are made relevant through the qualification. We expect that once you go through it, you have certain competencies. We also expect our members to undergo continuous professional development trainings.
We also organise key events, for example, this week we are having the ICPAR annual seminar under the theme, “Professional Accountants in the Modern Age.” This will be the sixth annual seminar.
Non-performing loan amounts are increasingly going up and various stakeholders are currently mulling solutions around the concerns. What is the accounting input into this?
In our banking sector, someone can come and request for a loan of a billion, and when you ask them for an audited accounts, they present one that has not been audited by a licensed member of ICPAR and the banks accept such reports.
The type of people they are using could be auditors who are not licensed, which could affect the asset quality. If you know that your client requires an audit for a loan, you will be more careful.
The banks should tell their clients that they are not going to accept audits that are not from professionals recognised by law in the country.
We are working to have partnerships with players such as the central bank, Ministry of Finance, Rwanda Bankers Association, Rwanda Revenue Authority, among others, to ensure that all across we have professionals only.