The African continent was, for a brief time, thought to have avoided the spread of the coronavirus. As the number of cases on the African continent has grown, many governments are taking steps to limit the spread of the disease, including closing of non-essential businesses, issuing lockdowns and curfews, and enacting other preventive measures to enforce social distancing.
The accountancy profession in now facing the impact of this health and humanitarian crisis. Timely and focused response from professional accountancy organizations (PAOs) is crucial and many PAOs are playing instrumental roles to support their members, regulators, and other stakeholders.
In this time of crisis, IFAC, the Pan African Federation of Accountants and the Fédération Internationale des Experts Comptables et Commissaires aux Comptes Francophones are committed to providing support to their members as they transition their operations and infrastructure to the “new normal”. Last week during two virtual regional forums we gathered together over 80 participants from 20 countries to share experiences and solutions for operating during this situation.
Collaboration in Crisis Management: Crisis management during an emergency of this scale can include both an organizational plan as well as participating in national plans.
- Zambia’s business community organized a Business Council COVID Emergency Taskforce to provide the necessary crisis management infrastructure. The taskforce is an alliance of over 30 leaders of large industries, associations, and government. The taskforce has provided a cohesive platform for a coordinated response and synergies across businesses that would not otherwise come together. The Zambian Institute of Chartered Accountants (ZiCA) has a lead role on this taskforce due to its credibility as a PAO and reputation for financial accountability and strong organizational capacity.
An organizational crisis management plan should include the actions your specific organization needs to do to continue operating, achieve its public interest mission, and mitigate the business impact of the crisis, with safety being a high priority (read more in Seven Essential Crisis Management Planning Steps for PAOs).
- Before the national lockdown, ZiCA instituted building protocols with a mandatory contact tracing form for anyone entering ZiCA’s office. If any staff began to exhibit symptoms of COVID, the form could be shared with the Ministry of Health for contact tracing and testing.
- In Mali, the government ordered all businesses close at 2 PM, limiting after work gatherings. The Ordre National Des Experts-Comptables et Comptables Agréés du Mali board is reviewing its crisis management plan to consider how to maintain services to their members. Offering continuing professional development (CPD) is particularly challenging right now since all events have previously been done in-person.
- OEC-Morocco’s board has established a crisis management team. A part of its responsibilities is facilitating OEC’s members’ transition to virtual operations by providing guidance in IT and financial support where needed.
- The Institute of Chartered Professional Accountants of Kenya (ICPAK) created a checklist detailing legal and business considerations it would need to implement if forced to shift to remote operations, including cybersecurity, staff support, and infrastructure. To ensure business continuity, it nominated deputies for all departments in case a staff member fell ill. It also communicates regularly with the branches outside its main office in Nairobi.
Working Remotely: Working remotely is becoming the norm for many PAOs. Close collaboration between PAO management and board is key to making changes swiftly. However, PAOs noted that the acceleration of virtual work means increased exposure to phishing and hacking. Greater attention and resources are therefore needed to manage the security of IT infrastructure.
- The South African Institute of Professional Accountants (SAIPA) took steps to close its physical offices before South Africa’s national lockdown. Before doing so, SAIPA linked its office switchboard to staff’s mobile phones such that members calling the SAIPA office are automatically redirected to staff at home to continue providing support.
- SAIPA’s directors check-in once a week with their team to ensure they have the proper equipment to continue working.
- Ordre National des Experts Comptables et Comptables Agréés du Sénégal has been advising its member firms on IT solutions.
- Many PAOs are utilizing WhatsApp and Microsoft Teams for internal staff communications and Google Meet and Zoom for external meetings and conferences with members and stakeholders.
Extending a Hand to Colleagues: Stress levels are high for business owners and practitioners. PAOs are finding that this is a time for cooperation, not competition, and they need to maintain contact to avoid members feeling isolated. Many PAOs cited the article We Have to Address Mental Health—Especially Now as a useful reminder and background.
- OEC-Tunisia and ONECCA-Cameroon have created groups of board members that reach out daily to members to share advice and offer support.
- OEC-Tunisia has also created an online platform that groups together all government-issued support for businesses that face layoffs.
- The Institute of Certified Professional Accountants of Uganda (ICPAU) created an online community platform to support members, which has turned into a social community as well. Via the platform, ICPAU asks members to speak out and raise their hand if they need help.
- ICPAU, together with EY, held a webinar for all practitioners on how to support clients and plan for recovery. It is planning to follow-up with a webinar on mental wellness.
Supporting Students: PAOs do not want students to fall behind during the pandemic.
- SAIPA found that its students did not have enough data on their mobile phone plans to properly participate in projects and class online. SAIPA negotiated and advocated with mobile providers to secure a discounted rate on data packages to ensure students could engage virtually.
- ZiCA is collaborating with universities to provide a virtual university classroom to encourage students to finish courses, ZiCA is also developing a plan on how to proceed with its examinations.
Sharing Reliable Information: With so much information circulating, there can be misinformation and confusion. PAOs are relied on for bringing stability and credibility to information that is shared.
- SAIPA has created a small technical team dedicated to reviewing government regulations and communicating the right information to members and clients. It uses social media and its website to get updates out, especially technical guidelines and support for small- and medium-sized entities (SMEs), and has been working in partnership with the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants.
- ONECCA-Senegal created a WhatsApp group for members that is dedicated to inquiries related to COVID-19. Through the group, ONECCA has been able to quickly share technical resources and FAQs on COVID-19 that address some of the immediate concerns of its members.
Advocating for Support from Government: PAOs are still working with their governments on support for businesses, especially SMEs, during and post-COVID-19—the relationships have simply become virtual.
- Cognizant that government still needs to generate revenue, ICPAK issued a policy brief with several proposals for Parliament to consider, following work with its membership to understand what would best help them. Based on ICPAK’s proposals, the government agreed to reduce the VAT tax from 16% to 14% and created a new tax band ensuring that earnings within that band would not be taxed.
- Similarly, ONECCA-Senegal has leveraged its WhatsApp group to survey members and clients on what support would help mitigate the impact of the pandemic. The feedback allowed ONECCA-Senegal to issue recommendations to the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Planning, Economy, and Cooperation.
- In Cote d’Ivoire, several donor agencies have committed funding to support the private sector. Ordre Des Experts-Comptables Cote D’Ivoire has pressed donors to unite funding and disburse funds through national banks that can provide loans at set interest rates, which better supports businesses.
- In Chad, the government has created its own fund to support businesses. The Ordre des Professionnels Comptables du Tchad has offered to manage the fund and encouraged other PAOs to consider how they could strengthen government accountability and public financial management with so many countries mobilizing large amounts of funding to address the crisis.
Celebrating Achievements: Positive news is a relief valve for society right now.
- The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria is livestreaming its conferment of Fellowship status for hundreds of its members. Members can join in the conferment and follow along and ICAN will send out the materials new Fellows would usually receive at the in-person ceremony.