Dumisani Dlamini, CFO National Arts Council: a sense of higher purpose

Improving the quality of governmental accounting is as high on Dumisani Dlamini's agenda as successfully executing his new job as CFO of the National Arts Council of South Africa (NAC). “I am extremely proud of my involvement as chairperson of audit committees in various municipalities. It is great to see those finance departments change for the better.”

Dlamini was active in the audit committees between 2006 and 2010, while working as Senior Finance Manager at SARS. "In September this year I accepted a new challenge as CFO of the NAC and that means I am again available for audit committees. I would like to contribute again. I am not only looking at my current role, but at government as a whole. Working for the government gives one a sense of higher purpose. That is why I am also very enthusiastic about CFO South Africa's new public finance chapter."

Dlamini was one of the participants of the inaugural meeting of public CFOs at the Cape Town Club on 13 November 2014. He describes the discussion "one of the most brilliant conversations I ever had" and feels public CFOs can greatly benefit from talking to each other. "We now need to make sure we sustain the conversations we started. CFOs have raised critical issues around legislation, audit and value for money. Each and every CFO seems to have pockets full of potential solutions. If we have a coordinated approach, we can have more of an impact on public finance in South Africa. Most solutions are already there."

Born and raised in KwaZulu-Natal, Dlamini started his career at a regional Engen Petroleum Malvern (Durban) before he moved on to Ithala Development Finance Corporation. "After that, I joined SARS, where I have worked for 12 years. From working as a branch accountant in Richard's Bay I moved to head office in Pretoria. One of the highlights of my career was when I was appointed Finance Manager, which was an opportunity for me to get involved in corporate and management accounting, supporting our General Manager Finance. I was analyzing financial information and reviewing processes and I got the opportunity to work with Pravin Gordhan, who was heading SARS at the time."

Things got even more interesting when Dlamini was promoted to Senior Finance Manager. "That was a very intense role," he reflects. "You have to be at the core of operations to be able to give your insights. What I like is really becoming part of the team so you can support and guide them. That way you prevent finance from being something of an after-thought. A more pro-active role leads to more fruitful work. You need to be a partner rather than a gate-keeper."

Before leaving SARS "because my role was not challenging anymore", Dlamini completed a Masters of Commerce degree, writing a dissertation on how to improve financial management in government. "The key thing point from my dissertation is that financial management is not an event, but a daily process. Another important conclusion was that managing finance it is not only the responsibility of the finance team, but of every single individual employee.

Dlamini calls the work at the NAC "very complex and very different" from his previous role at the tax agency. "The NAC has a mandate to develop art in the country. I am now dealing with artists and I don't only look at the financial side of things, but also at things like supply chain management. There are a lot of processes that need to be developed here, but luckily I like challenges and I am transformation-oriented."

He didn't shy away from delivering some hard messages when he started as CFO in September. "Communication is key. Its success depends how you deliver the message. I have introduced many things that might have triggered pushbacks from staff. But when we clearly explain what things need to be done, like preventing wastage of expenses, people understand. I give them the picture and explain that their jobs can be sustained that way. I tell people not to book a flight last minute for R3000 but a week earlier for R2200. It is difficult to change behaviour, but it is possible."

Dlamini has a very practical understanding of the modern CFO's desire to be a strategic partner to the CEO. "I am not a show stopper. A great CFO finds ways to solve problems instead of just saying no. When I arrived here at the NAC, I looked at the numbers, helped operations to improve and broke boundaries between divisions. For example, some artists are very good at art, but don't know how to keep a spreadsheet of their expenses. I am building blocks to ensure we can help them with this, something that had never been done before."