"I was invited to speak at the Zimbabwe Accountants Conference in Harare last month and was amazed by the support from the Zimbabwe government. The conference was opened by the Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was Acting President at the time as Robert Mugabe was out of the country. The event was also attended by MPs, a Government Minister and the Accountant General.

This level of representation from the Government demonstrates their belief and the conference organiser’s belief, that accountants can have a pivotal role in public and private sector development leading to economic growth.

The aim of the conference was to provide a forum for accountants, business leaders, policy makers, regulators and government officials to discuss Zimbabwe’s economic engagement with investors, business owners, bankers and development partners with a view to growing Zimbabwe’s economy.

The conference certainly fulfilled its aim. Delegates and speakers debated several issues and possible solutions.

One of the issues that was debated was widespread corruption and the accountants’ duty to stamp it out. A real stand out moment from the discussion was when one delegate stood up and said, “In any organisation where back-handers are being dealt, arrest the Financial Director first because no expenditure is going through without his say so.” This received a standing ovation demonstrating there is a real desire to change the long-standing status quo in Zimbabwe.

Another, prominent debate at the conference was the session I chaired, “Gender Diversity in Leadership – Making the Breakthrough”. Studies show that a similar amount of males and females complete accounting courses yet only a small proportion of females find themselves in leadership or decision making roles. Once again, the discussion around this subject was positive. Delegates and speakers seemed genuinely interested in improving the situation, providing several solutions to this issue.

The conference hosts, Public Accountants and Auditors Board (PAAB), announced that it would be launching a scholarship programme to promote leadership development in accounting. Its aim is to support 10 promising accountants, providing them with the necessary training and mentoring to help them to be future leaders. The fund will seek to attract both male and female students but would be capped at no more than 40% male recruits in any year. This was an encouraging step from PAAB.

My main impression from the conference was that the industry really wants to change in Zimbabwe. Now they have to put some of the issues they discussed and the possible solutions into practice. PAAB provided a lead but one organisation cannot change the whole industry thus making the conference theme “Partner. Collaborate. Grow” very apt.

I left the conference with the impression that the Zimbabwean accounting industry was taking a long hard look at itself, put in place standards and measures to ensure a successful future. They were taking ownership of the role they play in stamping out corruption and help to provide a base to build confidence and aid growth.

There are challenging times ahead because of a lack of cash and the introduction of bonds may do a lot of harm to an economy that is now starting to show signs of stability after the terrible hyper-inflation. I look forward to attending the conference next year, which I am sure will be even bigger, and hearing the progress that has been made."