The Zimbabwe Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators (Icsaz) held its annual conference in Victoria Falls last week under the theme “Chartered Secretaries Influence Economic Success”. At the conference, Icsaz President Letitia Gaga said the economy’s performance was well below expectations.
expectations largely caused by the technological developments of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the evolution of international cooperation and the evolution of domestic politics which have left much of society disillusioned. In addition to initiatives to stimulate and inform economic progress, business journalist Melody Chikono (MC) spoke this week with Icsa Managing Director Timothy Sheeny (TS, pictured), who pointed out that Zimbabwe remained one of the difficult countries to deal with both for the institute and for practitioners given the environment in which they operate.
Below are excerpts from the interview: MC: You have given us a history of the institute going back decades. How do you see the institute today?
TS: Today there is a challenge, but there is also an opportunity.
This profession has possessed the space to be the governance experts in organizations for 120 years. The role of the certified secretary is just as important today as it was during the emergence of the profession after the creation of public limited companies in the 19th century.
Until the 1970s, most companies were managed for all stakeholders. The unions were strong. Everyone had a job for life and a pension and businesses are investing in communities.
However, this social contract has been eroded and replaced by the concept of shareholder primacy and the overarching goal of increasing profits to maximize shareholder value.
With the erosion of the social contract, the community began to lose faith in business and capitalism. People questioned the excessive wages earned by business leaders and the growing gap between their wages and that of ordinary employees, massive layoffs of workers, environmental damage and climate change, and exploitation in the Supply Chain.
Today, it is important to recognize where your space is located and how to contribute to the improvement of organizations. MC: What is your comment on the conduct of professionals today in terms of cooperative governance?
TS: In Africa it’s probably more relevant, but that doesn’t mean it’s irrelevant elsewhere. Certified governance professionals are trained to recognize good corporate governance behavior and bad corporate behavior if they see bad corporate behavior, everyone expects them to expose it , but we must also be realistic and practical, it is not easy to do. So I have always respected an individual’s decisions to go slowly, but it is a challenge for corporate governance professionals today, especially in Africa, to embed a culture of good corporate governance, but I hope they cultivate a culture that helps them do so. MC: How do we link bad corporate governance and corruption, especially in Zimbabwe?
The hope is that good corporate governance will always expose corruption and can prevent it. Well, individuals will always find ways to commit fraud and be corrupted. Hope if you have an overwhelming response you can minimize the opportunities for corruption.
MC: You will agree with me that the Zimbabwean environment is a little different in terms of the economic atmosphere. How should Zimbabwean professionals flourish ethically?
TS: There is no doubt that Zimbabwe is the most difficult environment in which to operate. there is no doubt. So for the corporate governance professionals operating here, I hope they feel they can speak up, if necessary, but they are operating in a corrupt environment. So to expect someone to blow for a while in an environment like this is a greater expectation.
Hopefully the professionals here will expose what they see, but to be honest they need to do so with caution and frankness.
MC: You mentioned a number of changes that are taking shape within the institution, in particular the name change. How do you think these changes will bring about a positive transformation in the profession?
TS: The institute has a lot of work to evolve and change what aspiring professionals do. I think we have generated a program to train young people who aspire to become governance professionals in Zimbabwe and elsewhere.
We work with young people so it will take them time. Competence is one thing and knowledge is one thing. Maturity and judgment is another and it will take time, but I think this organization has what it takes to equip young aspiring certified governance professionals with the skills they need to progress.
MC: What measures are you putting in place to integrate Zimbabwe into the global system in terms of alignment of the institution itself?
TS: Zimbabwe is a bit unique compared to the rest of the organization. It has an inspiring membership that’s much more populated by accountants, so here the classic role is someone who’s hopefully a CFO and full secretary.
We have recognized this and the institute in Zimbabwe has qualification programs that lean into the accountancy profession, as well as the underlying governance.
MC: What is the most worrying thing in Zimbabwe considering that your professionals operate from here? TS: What worries me is that the institute’s mission is to be a leader in good corporate governance. Even if you are doing well and are in a troubled environment, there is a disconnect. These professionals and the people who work with them must be sensitive to the environment in which they work. Zimbabwe’s economic environment is undoubtedly difficult.
TS: What is the role of these professionals in economic development? MC: The role is to help the organization to be run as efficiently as possible. If it is managed effectively, whatever it does or produces, it will produce at the maximum level of efficiency and if this happens collectively across the country, slowly the environment will improve.
But a governance professional among our members can help the organization make better decisions that will help the business and the country.
MC: Learn from the conference how do you see Icsaz in the next two to three years?
TS: This profession is at a crossroads, everyone wants a job on the governance train, so each profession wants a piece of it. This institute will help its members to give them the nerve to seize the territory the territory which is theirs. This is what the institute is going to do.