Three public sector CFOs reveal the dynamics they deal with during board discussions


CFOs Irene Singo, D’Shorne Human and Devrani Moonsamy share what their boardroom engagements require from them, and what they require from the directors around the table.

As South Africa prepares for its elections on 29 May, all eyes are on the public sector and its CFOs to see how they are managing the country’s funds. Because of this pressure on finance professionals in the sector, they have to be clear and honest when telling their numbers stories.

“In the public sector, as CFOs, we are custodians of public trust, ensuring that principles of transparency and accountability are upheld,” says Department of Justice and Constitutional Development CFO Irene Singo.

“Ethical governance is the cornerstone upon which public trust is built,” she explains. “But it’s not just about compliance with laws and regulations: citizens expect more from us as leaders. Through transparent reporting, we demonstrate accountability. It’s proof that we are fulfilling our mandate efficiently and ethically.”

To do this, Irene says CFOs require clear strategic direction from their executive authority. “We need to understand where they want to take the organisation.” She adds that CFOs also need financial support to fund the organisation’s strategic objectives.

To help her own board make decisions and to support the strategy, Irene goes through the agenda of board meetings and highlights areas to follow up on if something’s not clear. “I also reach out to the secretariat where I need further clarification.”

She explains that clear communication is essential to a successful boardroom meeting.

“Having a qualified team also helps and it’s important to have standards the board should abide by.”

An example of where this has helped her recently is when the supporting evidence provided wasn’t enough to convince a decision. “While everyone else was fine with it, I continued to raise my concerns until all the necessary information was provided, enabling a well-informed decision.”

Engaging constructively

CFO D’Shorne Human believes that his board at the South African Forestry Company (SAFCOL) looks to him to simplify complex financial discussions and strategically assist in creating – and especially protecting – value in the business. In turn, he needs “a constructive platform where business-minded executives will afford him the opportunity to engage them on significant finance matters impacting the future of the organisation”.

He says transparently engaging with the board and using concise and relevant information, builds trust between them. For example: “Sometimes in state-owned entities, there is an unbalanced priority given to the socio-economic development mandate, because some boards prioritise socio-economic development at the cost of financial sustainability".

“I communicated one-on-one with the chairperson of the audit committee and the board chair to ensure I understood some of their possible concerns and amended the submission to proactively address the same concerns.”

He prepares for a boardroom engagement by making sure he gets enough sleep and practice – even if it means talking to himself.

Preparing for success

The Ombud Council CFO Devrani Moonsamy agrees with D’Shorne, explaining that her board requires simple, narrative finance reports that are easy to understand and well-presented, with clear areas of requirements and decision-making from her.

She also needs them to make decisions efficiently and believes that a well-prepared board can do this.

“Boards should implement approval or delegation processes in certain areas to avoid delays. And, if you submit a report with all the information you need clearly, questions will be limited and won’t waste time.”

Devrani refers back to when she started at the company and sat in a meeting where many questions were asked about finance. “This was because the report didn’t sufficiently give the picture of where the entity was,” she says. “I learnt there that the contents and the structure of information in your report should answer all questions the board may have.”

She adds that points of discussion, takeaway notes and items for approval should be clearly structured. “A chairperson that is able to steer the discussion towards the agenda outcome efficiently.”

To prepare herself for a board meeting, Devrani prepares her board packs a week before a meeting. “I set out board dates in advance to ensure that I include relevant, complete and accurate data in the board packs.”

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