Case Study V: SAI Rwanda – Government action helped retention
SAI Rwanda is a new institution. It was established in 1998, recruited its first 21 staff in 1999 and began operations in 2000. From this early stage, the SAI was committed to training and retaining a cohort of professionally qualified accountants and worked intensively to promote the importance of sound public financial management and a strong supreme audit institution across government, and the country at large. The SAI recruits new graduates and puts them through an intensive one-week training programme with coaching during field work by the team leader or any another experienced auditor in the team. At the end of every audit cycle there is a tailored refresher training depending on the level of experience and seniority.
Since 2003, the SAI has been vested with the administrative powers to hire and promote its own staff and to set salary scales. However, the structure and salary scales must be discussed through consultations with the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning before its final publication in the Official Gazette. The SAI made its case in terms of the need to increase the quantity and quality of audits and the capacity to contribute to the government’s agenda of strengthening overall management of public finances.
In 2008, the Institute of Chartered Public Accountants of Rwanda (ICPAR) was established and an agreement struck with the Ministry of Finance who agreed to sponsor all government staff working in accounting and internal audit to help them obtain their professional qualifications. SAI staff also benefit from this scheme and are sponsored when they pursue their professional accountancy qualifications through ACCA, CPA and other professional courses. SAI Rwanda gives study leave to its staff and pays their annual subscription and exam fees (maximum twice per paper). Staff can attend the classes with other students from the public sector as well as private students. When they are offered sponsorships, staff sign a contract to remain with the SAI for at least 3 years after qualifying.
SAI Rwanda is significantly investing in human resource development to satisfy stakeholders’ needs and respond adequately to emerging risks in the external audit environment. Some 30% of staff are currently qualified as professional financial accountants and a further 57% of staff are pursuing their professional courses, with many close to completion.
Retention of Audit staff in SAI Rwanda
In the early years, average annual staff turnover was low, around 5 per cent. To encourage staff to stay, SAI Rwanda put in place a range of staff retention and succession planning initiatives, such as vertical and horizontal promotions, a career path including nine layers from Audit Assistant up to the level of Assistant Auditor General, and opportunities for professional development. The SAI strives to maintain and enhance a conducive working environment in several ways: staff are offered employment for open ended periods after their successful probation period and, since 2013, the SAI leadership has introduced a system for recognizing the best performers in order to encourage a culture of high performance.
Between 2016 and 2017 staff turnover started to increase, see Table 1 below. Exit interviews showed that the majority of those who left were hired by the private sector, the main offers coming from the commercial banks, the National Bank, as well as international organisations or donor funded projects where they can easily negotiate better pay. Others were leaving for promotional opportunities elsewhere in the public sector at the level of accounting officer/Chief Budget Manager. To combat this, the SAI sought to do two things. Firstly, create more opportunities for promotion by lengthening the career structure and secondly obtain support from government for increased funding to make SAI Rwanda salaries more competitive in the public sector These improvements have made a difference, SAI salaries are among the best in the public sector, and the turnover has dropped to more manageable levels.
The SAI also believes strongly that some turnover is a good thing. Those who leave may become good ambassadors for the SAI Rwanda and use their skills to benefit the wider Rwandan community and business.
However, too high a turnover, especially among more senior and experienced staff can result in the loss of important institutional knowledge and experience and be costly, requiring training of new staff.
In time, the SAI recognises that it may have to revisit its structure and its pay scales, but believes that with clear arguments and working through established government structures this should be possible before reaching a situation in which good staff will again start to vote with their feet, and leave the SAI for better opportunities elsewhere.