Irene Singo's first 100 days at the Cross-Border Road Transport Agency

"CFO Clean Audit" reveals how at a smaller agency, she can expand her breadth of focus.

Irene Singo was at the Department of Mineral Resources for just over five years and having achieved a fundmental turn-around in the financial reporting process there, she moved on to conquer another mountain.

Singo is now the CFO of the Cross-Border Road Transport Agency (CBRTA), a little-known agency that was established to provide advice, regulation, facilitation and law enforcement relating to cross-border road transport, where she aims to continue her focus on achieving clean audits. Since 2 January, 2019, Singo has embedded herself at CBRTA, and besides number crunching, is expanding her expertise in South Africa’s cross-border road transport system. CFO South Africa caught up with her.


You mentioned that once you moved on from the Department of Mineral Resources, that you’d like to work in the private sector. That, or by the time you turned 45, you’d do the same. What changed for you?
I have a strong belief that one shouldn’t stay longer than five years in a position because that timeframe provides a definite structure to achieve your goals and vision. My plan was to venture into the private sector, but then the CBRTA opportunity arose. My interest was piqued because I’d never heard about the agency and the work it does is fascinating.

What legacy did you leave at the Department of Mineral Resources?
My strength is in reporting, and I believe that I implemented one of the most robust reporting systems in the public sector. We didn’t achieve a clean audit last year because of issues from many years ago, but this doesn’t detract from the gains made. I am most proud of the fact that I left a motivated, passionate and hardworking team behind.

How have the first 100 days been at CBRTA?
I feel like I am in Grade 1 again! When you start at a new school, you have to learn about the environment, the people and the culture. The CBRTA is also a much smaller entity and so everyone knows each other. At the Department I didn’t get to meet everyone who worked there; at the agency I see my team every day. My first few months have been about fostering relationships with my team and becoming embedded in the culture. I have also been meeting with our stakeholders who have such interesting perspectives on Africa and the potential for economic growth.

Is getting to know the stakeholders shaping your vision for your role at CBRTA?
That’s an interesting question, because traditionally, CFOs are the “number crunchers”, but I think it’s important to know many aspects of the business, so you know where money is going, and where money could be wisely spent. It’s also easier for me to do this kind of groundwork at CBRTA because it’s a smaller organisation.

What occupies most of your time?
I went headfirst into the third quarter reporting work, preparing this for the audit and risk committees. I am also spending a lot of time learning about the rest of Africa. I spend a lot of time reading reports produced by the team on the continent.

What is the most rewarding part of being the CFO at CBRTA?
I think it’s very valuable to feel closer to the business because my work is not as hectic as it was at the department. I really enjoy the reflection time (in a less strenuous environment) because then it makes it easier to make wise decisions and to deal with the “small” but important stuff that often gets overlooked in a bigger organisation.

What are the biggest challenges or headwinds you are facing at the moment?
The CBRTA is self-funded so financial viability is critical. I am working on ensuring this. I am therefore currently reviewing our current funding model to find new, innovative revenue streams. In addition, we are automating business processes, which always present teething issues. I have to motivate the staff by explaining that this is beneficial in the long run, so it’s about managing the change carefully.

How do you relax?
I am passionate about hiking. I started five years ago after my cousins convinced me that hiking was a life-changing endeavour, and luckily I’d always enjoyed nature and the outdoors. Recently we did a three-day hike in Lesotho which was beautiful and magical.

While it’s not always relaxing, I love family time. My first born is doing a Masters degree in financial technology; my second is a first year undergraduate student at Rhodes University and my last born is only in Grade 9. So it’s busy, but rewarding to see my children doing so well. They are such interesting people.
 
Read more: CFO of the week: Rofhiwa Irene Singo, "I am known as CFO Clean Audit"