Service and integrity first, say public sector CFOs

Navigating your way to success in the public sector is a matter of hard work, strategic thinking, a duty to serve, and – hopefully – uncompromising integrity, according to Ramasela Ganda and Rajesh Mahabeer. The two were sharing the stage as part of a panel discussion at the second annual Finance Indaba Africa, held in Johannesburg on 12 and 13 October 2017.

Although she currently holds the title of Barloworld equipment rental CFO, Ramasela spent years within the public sector – most prominently at Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality where she earned a reputation for her sharp financial mind and no-nonsense approach to municipal finances, leading Ekurhuleni to their first ever clean audit. Rajesh currently works as CFO and head of public sector finance and deal origination at Garunda Capital, though he previously worked as CFO of SanParks and the Auditor-General’s office.

Having both private and public sector experience under their belts, both speakers brought a balanced and nuanced view of public service to the panel discussion, highlighting the positives of a career within the spheres of government, while still cautioning that it was a contentious and potentially dangerous space for an ethical person to operate in.

Rajesh had strong words and clear advice for the professionals in the room. He said:

“I believe the public service is the backbone of any country. It can give finance professionals a chance to grow and gain important experience. During my tenure in government, I learnt a lot and grew a lot.”

But, he added, there are certain realities about working in the public sector as a financial professional. “It is no secret the challenges we face, like corruption, collusion, and crime. You must go in with your eyes wide open,” he said. “On occasion, you may be faced with a situation where you must ‘comply or walk’. In that case, I suggest that you walk.”

In a scenario such as that, Rajesh said, it is better to get out “before it gets too hot” – or face the music: “It will be you who has to answer when the Hawks come knocking at your door,” he cautioned.

Ramasela, too, chose not to mince her words, telling the audience that they were “better off dying for the truth than standing for the things that are bringing this country down”. “Your integrity is the only thing you walk in with,” she added.

Despite these strong views, both spoke glowingly of their time in the public service. The other side of the coin, according to Ramasela, is that public servants really can make a difference every day. She said:

“Everything that you do is tangible and real, especially in local government. The changes that we make are meaningful. There is a need for us to go and serve. Someone in an informal settlement does not have access to healthcare, for example. We need an engineer to build that road, and we need a strong CFO to hold that engineer to account.”

Rajesh concurred, adding: “The country needs us in the public sector… Remember we are responsible for the budgets we have under our control, and if we don’t use them properly then the people of this country will not have the benefit that they should. By making that difference, the next generation will have a better place to live in.”