BY John Bosco Ntangaare
Director of Education, Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Uganda
The Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Uganda (ICPAU) is the national professional accountancy organisation, established in 1992 by an Act of Parliament, now Accountants Act 2013. It is mandated to regulate and maintain the standard of accountancy in Uganda and to prescribe and regulate the conduct of accountants and practising accountants in Uganda. ICPAU is dedicated to serving the public interest by strengthening the accountancy profession and contributing to the growth and development of Uganda’s economy. ICPAU’s members represent accountants in public practice, education, government service, industry and commerce, where the stewardship role is duly exercised in the public interest. Our members support organizations in making them more successful and sustainable.
ICPAU offers two forms of education; initial professional development (IPD) for trainee accountants and continuing professional development (CPD) for fully qualified accountants. A career in accountancy opens one to lifelong learning in order to continue delivering sustainable value to employers, clients and other stakeholders. After qualification, one is required to continue learning through the Institute’s CPD programme and must attain at least 40 hours of CPD annually. Undisputedly, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted both IPD and CPD.
When H.E. Y.K. Museveni, President of the Republic of Uganda, addressed the nation on 18 March 2020 and announced the closure of educational institutions, without exception, effective 20 March 2020, we thought it would be short-lived. The Public Accountants Examinations Board decided to reduce the examinations diets from three to two. The response from some students was that they wanted their three diets to be able to progress or even complete their course. Among these were those working in the finance and audit functions of financial institutions regulated by the Bank of Uganda. The Bank of Uganda had given them a deadline to complete the CPA course in order to be confirmed in their roles.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we got the opportunity to explore the possibility of conducting computer-based examinations (CBE). The CBE require significant investment in terms of finance, technology, training of human resources and support services for students. However, considering the internet connectivity constraints in this country, the students shall have the option to sit for CBE or handwritten examinations, moving forward.
The COVID-19 lockdown brought us closer to the students. They were anxious to know the plans that the Institute had. Regular circulars were issued to keep students up-to-date on plans for examinations. We also organized virtual interfaces with students as well as tuition providers.
On the CPD front, the COVID-19 restrictions meant that ICPAU could not organize face-to-face events. The first casualty was the East African Congress of Accountants (EACOA) which had been slated for 18-20 March 2020 in Entebbe, Uganda. It was postponed indefinitely on 13 March 2020, before the Presidential pronouncements of 18 March 2020 and subsequent ones. The lesson from the COVID-19 pandemic was to utilise technology. Subsequently, all CPD events have been conducted virtually. Online CPDs are cheaper and convenient for the stakeholders; organisers, presenters and participants, although at times the participants are interrupted by poor internet connectivity. Of course, we have received some requests for physical CPD events for networking purposes. The consideration is to have a hybrid of physical and virtual CPDs, as far as the social distancing requirements may permit.
We are cognizant of the fact that preparing the professional accountant for the future requires an emphasis on implementing a comprehensive, integrated approach that equips trainees with the skills, capabilities and ethical behaviour required for an evolving business environment. It is our cardinal duty to demonstrate to the younger generation that accounting is an exciting and dynamic opportunity. A dual focus on technology and people development will make finance roles richer and more rewarding. The roles for accountants in the financial services industry will continue to evolve. Digital technology, data-driven and resource-constrained environment provide enormous opportunity and risk.
The International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) has provided us with the following guidance on how to advance a future-ready professional accountant:
- To frequently review and refresh the competency framework so that the skills and professional development provided are relevant and of high quality
- To focus on quality teaching, particularly in emerging topic areas; and
- To deliver training and support in wider skillsets, particularly for mid-career accountants. This may involve building effective partnerships with other providers who can deliver impactful training opportunities.
COVID-19 found us in the middle of revising of our syllabuses. Our plan was to examine the students under the new syllabus in 2021 but this was disrupted. Therefore, the new syllabuses will be examinable in 2022. This will give the students an opportunity to plan for their transition from the current to the new syllabuses.