The Chartered Institute of Government Finance and Risk Officers (CIGFARO) is a professional body recognised by the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) that aims to further financial management best practices in the public sector. Celebrating its 90-year anniversary in 2019, CIGFARO has a long history of furthering the interests of the public sector in the financial, internal audit, and related monitoring and management professions.
Originally founded as the Institute of Municipal Treasurers and Accountants (IMTA) in 1929, the organisation was formally recognised in 1988 as a statutory body by law under the Municipal Accountants Act 1988. However, the Act was later repealed during the advent of the new democratic dispensation in 1994, when the Accounting Standards Board (ASB) was introduced. This shifted responsibility of prescribing and setting accounting standards from IMTA (IMFO) to the ASB.
CIGFARO President Peet du Plessis notes that this put the institute on the back foot, as the repeal of the legislation meant doing away with professional IMTA qualifications, as well as the organisation’s statutory recognition. In 1990, the institute resolved to change its name to the Institute of Municipal Finance Officers (IMFO) and repositioned itself to accommodate a broader membership. In 2016, the institute again underwent a name change to become more inclusive, welcoming public sector audit, risk and performance management practitioners to its ranks.
Future growth plans
Today, CIGFARO enjoys SAQA accreditation and has more than 3 000 members, and growing. “Our challenge now is to once again target professional certification by becoming registered as a professional institute,” says Du Plessis. “Just as the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) requires all professionals to be registered in order to practice, so we would like to be able to issue licence numbers to members. This would enable us to boost professionalism within the public sector as a whole, but also to hold it to a high standard of ethics.”
He notes that CIGFARO continues to lobby for this change, and to be clear on its objectives. “It’s not just about increasing membership levels,” he explains. “As a non-profit organisation, it would also help us to grow membership fees, and thus to deliver better services to members and to the public sector, which ultimately benefits the country as a whole.”
CIGFARO remains dedicated to establishing and maintaining high standards of professionalism among practitioners, and to supporting them in the public sector marketplace. “We help members to do what they have to do as public servants – and that is to act in the service of the public, to be part of the bigger picture, working for all South Africans,” says Du Plessis.
Raising the bar across public sector finance and risk management
The benefits of membership include Continuing Professional Development (CPD) programmes, a learnership programme, training courses, annual conferences and national and regional workshops and conferences.
CIGFARO also enjoys credibility with various government departments, including the Office of the Auditor General, the Department of Provincial and Local Government Affairs, and National Treasury, as well as educational institutions and private companies.
Beyond this, however, membership at CIGFARO benefits the public sector by offering a verifiable qualification and members’ commitment to a stringent code of conduct. “I always say that it’s like making sure you have the right jockey on the horse to win,” Du Plessis says. “If we have the right people in public sector finance and risk management, we can achieve what government is striving towards – eradicating corruption and governing effectively for the benefit of all citizens. If we are able to go a step further and register as a professional body, we will be able to revoke licences of members who do not uphold our ethical standards. And we will also be able to protect our members from undue pressure from the public and politicians.”
Benefits of collaboration
CIGFARO also plays an important role in advising national and provincial government, as well as at related institutions and associations, on all matters relating to public sector financial viability and sustainability. The institute researches and comments on existing and proposed pieces of legislation affecting the public sector, such as the Municipal Finance Management Act, Municipal Systems Act and the Property Rates Act, and provides opportunities and platforms for an exchange of views, knowledge and best practices amongst members.
CIGFARO welcomes opportunities to help it to benchmark its work, and also pursues partnerships and relationships with international peers. “We are also interested in hearing from professionals in the private sector, and educational institutions, about how we can collaborate to raise the standards of excellence in the public sector,” Du Plessis says. “We’d love to collaborate in research, and to be made aware of any gaps in our work. We also offer an opportunity to leave a legacy by helping us to influence the writing of legislation, together with the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, to create a better South Africa.”