‘My passion has always been to serve people’
Welcome to the CFO Club Africa podcast, where we interview leading CFOs from Africa and beyond. CFO Club Africa is a division of the Chartered Institute of Business Accountants, the professional body for business accountants, financial managers and chief financial officers. Go to www.cfoclub.co.za and join our community of accounting and finance executives.
Welcome to this CFO Club Africa podcast, in this podcast series I speak to leading financial professionals and CFOs about their professional journeys, their perspectives on the industry and their perceptions regarding the skills modern financial professionals must have to lead a successful organisation.
My guest today is Aziz Hardien, he’s a Chartered Accountant and the Provincial Accountant-General of the Western Cape Government and he has been in this role since 2011. In fact, he has been in the civil service for nearly two decades. Before moving to the Western Cape Government, he was a Product Champion and Senior Manager at the Auditor-General, and before joining the civil service in 2003, he was an Assistant Manager at Ernst & Young in Cape Town.
Aziz, you’ve been in the public service for nearly two decades, that is a long time, what is the attraction?
It is the desire to always serve and to assist where we can because everything that we do is about the citizen in the Western Cape.
What exactly does a Provincial Accountant-General do?
There is an Accountant-General in every province and then we have a National Accountant-General. The Accountant-General is responsible for driving governance, is responsible for ensuring that the financial statements and the annual reports that are produced by the departments, the public entities and the municipalities is a true and fair reflection of the assets, the liabilities, the expenditure and the revenue that the institutions generate. It’s basically ensuring that every single transaction is recorded correctly, it is reported correctly, so that decisions can be made based on a true and fair reflection of financial statements.
That must be a pretty difficult job, especially in the current environment where there are a lot of allegations of corruption within government. Are you one of the gatekeepers to try and prevent corruption?
It’s an important part of our job that departments and institutions follow all the laws and processes that have been set out, mainly by National Treasury, and sometimes we have our own corroborating laws that either makes it a bit more difficult for the departments but always to ensure that there’s a business flow that there’s congruency between the supply chain regulations and what the procurement laws allow us to do. So it is an important gatekeeping process but mostly an oversight.
Let’s talk about you, where did you grow up and why and when did you decide to become an accountant?
Like most of us who have probably had humble beginnings, I grew up in Mitchells Plain, Cape Town, in a little suburb called Woodlands. At the young age of 14 I had lost my father and I only had my mother and three other siblings, my mother provided for us, and she said to us that the only way you can improve yourselves is through studying, through getting an education and in that way improve your situation.
Being a Chartered Accountant has been an early ambition of mine, it probably started around the age of 14 or 15 when I decided that I love numbers, I love business and I love looking at things differently.
I think that was the time when I consciously decided that I was going to become an accountant. I don’t think I have had any other desire other than to be an accountant in terms of a profession.
You did your articles at Ernst & Young, but you moved to the civil service quite early in your career. Tell us about that period when you had to take that decision, what are you going to do post-Ernst & Young.
I started my articles in 1999 at Ernst & Young and fortunately for me, many of the jobs that I did at Ernst & Young were working in the public sector. I was privy to working at the University of the Western Cape and seeing how public funds were being spent.
I have always been the person looking at how we can serve people and how we can support people.
I’ve never been one to chase revenue but always wanting to be in the space to help others. So I have never really seriously considered going into commercial, as in being a formal accountant in the private sector, my passion has always been to serve people and it comes through in the work that I do on a daily basis.
I speak to many private sector accountants and CFOs in this podcast, and I always ask them what is your biggest challenge in your job and what consumes the most of your time and many say they need to grow revenue, and they are quite involved with growing revenue. Of course, in the civil service you don’t have such a focus because you get funding from government. What are your biggest challenges in your job?
I suppose for any CFO the biggest challenge is working with people. It’s also ensuring that we’re up to date with what’s happening in technology. The challenge that we face now as CFOs is working with a group of young people who want instant gratification. It’s a changing environment that we’re living in on a daily basis. When we did articles for three years, a period where your cut your teeth, where you learn processes, where you get exposed to many things, and I think the youth are coming through today and it’s about I want that management job and I want to be there where you are and I want it now. It’s just dealing with people on a daily basis.
Within the government sector I would say the main challenges are dealing with skills and competencies and it’s also dealing with a will to wanting to make things better.
Then, obviously, within the entire government of South Africa we’re also dealing with technology as a major concern for us because within the government sector we do run legacy systems for transactions, but we also need an integrated financial management system. If we’re wanting to progress as a country, that is definitely an area where we have to involve more of the technology to be able to do better and deliver better services.
You’ve been in the civil service for a long time, has the role of financial professionals within government changed during this period?
Definitely, where we come from is an area of ensuring compliance and the way that we need to move is more what my boss has termed as governance for growth, where it’s not just about ticking the box and making sure that things have been done in terms of the laws and regulations, but how do you get people to think bigger than just compliance. How do you get people to think about the performance.
You say that we don’t, as in the private sector, look at revenue generation but that’s actually one of the key things that we do look at is how do we find additional avenues of revenue that comes into the province. How do we increase our budget through partnerships with private sector or through other non-governmental institutions. When we put all of the money together into a pot, how do we increase the purse so that we can get maximum benefit.
I see on your CV that you like to read, what books are on your bedside table?
Apart from the international accounting practices, which we always have to be up to date with, I think the last I read about two weeks ago was A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. It was a book about the struggles that people were going through in Afghanistan and the happiness that came out of those struggles. Again, just being able to see people for who they are and understanding that everybody has a story, and if you are able to understand somebody’s story, if you are able to understand their perspective, you are able to communicate effectively and then you are able to be a better people person.
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