Akwenye reflects on her journey as founding Chair of first Judiciary Audit Committee
Ndeshipewa Akwenye, was appointed as founding chairperson of the very first Audit Committee for the Office of the Judiciary three years ago. With her term ending this year, Akwenye unpacks on her journey.
Firstly, what happens at the Office of the Judiciary?
The Office of the Judiciary was established in the public service by the Judiciary Act, 2015 (Act No.11 of 2015). Parliament, in line with Article 78 (5) of the Namibian Constitution. The Office was established as the administrative component of the Judiciary responsible for the handling of all the administrative and financial matters of the Judiciary, which consists of the Supreme Court, the High Court and the Magistrates’ Courts, ensuring that the Judiciary remains an independent organ of the State in line with the Constitution. The Office of the Judiciary is not part of the Ministry of Justice. It is a financially and administratively independent institution within the public service.
You are the founding Chairperson of the Audit Committee of the Office of the Judiciary in Namibia. How did everything start?
It all started during my postgraduate studies for the Masters of Science in Accounting and Finance in 2016, when my thesis was centred around “the establishment of Audit Committees in Government Ministries of Namibia” My interest grew more when the research revealed that a lot still needs to be done in the area of good corporate governance as it relates to the Government as well as SOEs. I then ask myself “how can I contribute in this area by serving on an Audit Committee and plough back the knowledge and skills that I acquired during my studies and past experience. I previously assisted the office of the Judiciary during the appointment process of the Deputy Director Internal Audit. They must have seen my potential and the quality of my work and thus appointed me on 30 November 2018 to serve as the founding chairperson of the audit committee for a term of 3 years.
Why is this committee so important?
The role of an audit committee and its value to the corporate governance has dramatically increased in importance in the public sector. Thus, management will greatly rely on the audit committee to provide significant direction and oversight, not just on financial controls and reporting, but also on a growing list of complex risks that challenge business operations. These include misappropriation of taxpayers’ money and grafts in numerous SOEs. To be proactive, controls and systems need to be put in place to minimize risk to the minimum. The directions to all these are the mandates of the audit committee.
The Audit Committee also further assists the Office of the Judiciary in fulfilling its oversight responsibility by acting as an advisory body, independent of management and reports administratively to the Executive Director and functionally to the Chief Justice. The Deputy Director for internal audit of the Office of the Judiciary and external auditors reports functionally to the Audit Committee.
How have you grown in this role since its inception?
I have gained a lot of experiences and contributed immensely, with my team, during the last 2 and a half years; both from a personal and career perspective. As a chairperson on an audit committee, I have learned the importance of relationships that one should have with management, internal audit, external audit and all other key stakeholders. Its also very crucial that the chairperson discharges their roles and responsibilities with utmost due diligence to set a good precedent because the example set by the Chairperson will be a determining factor of the success of the committee amongst other things. To that effect, I then had to be firm, objective and stand by my decisions together with the input and contributions from my fellow audit committee members when dealing with relevant stakeholders.
One also appreciates time management, as you are required to review the audit committee pack ahead of the meeting to aid for valuable discussions that can further enhance the aims and objectives of the Office of the Judiciary in line with good corporate governance practices.
I am proud to have been part of the individuals that started the audit committee from scratch and the tremendous strides that we have taken to date, to steer an audit committee in the public sector. The committee is in alignment with most of the provisions outlines as per best corporate governance principles. Obviously, that goes without saying that there is still room for improvement especially if we continue to benchmark ourselves against regional and international corporate governance best practices.
What were the challenges you faced and how was it overcome?
Having to introduce and incorporate the audit committee into the organisation did obviously had its challenges being a pioneer initiative:
– Change management – getting everyone to understand the audit committee’s role and also buy in from management. Although this was slightly a challenge in the beginning, we successfully overcame this, firstly as a result of the expectational support and buy in that we received from the Chief Justice and Executive Director who set the tone at the top and drove the message on the importance of the audit committee in the Office of the Judiciary, this really lifted the load on the audit committee and got us to easily integrate within the structures of the Office of the Judiciary.
– Operationalise of the Audit Committee – having to start from scratch, we had no guiding frameworks/policies/procedures for the audit committee, the audit committee as a collective proactively with the mix of skills and knowledge ensured that key policies/procedures and frameworks are drafted and implemented.
– COVID-19 – as a newly formed audit committee, the Covid-19 pandemic, and the regulations to curb the spread of the pandemic was also a challenge. We however acted proactively to ensure that we as an audit committee continue with the discharge of our roles and responsibilities with utmost compliance to the regulations. For example, we quickly adjusted the way in which we conducted our audit committee meetings, by following the recommended COVID-19 protocols at all times and also conducted our audit committee meetings virtual via Zoom. This in itself speaks volumes on the audit committee’s agility and adaptability to respond and adjust to unexpected/unforeseen changes/challenges and still ensure that we successfully continue with our tasks.
– On a person level, juggling between my full-time job; my studies as I am currently pursuing my Bachler’s of Law degree (LLB) and life in general – I had to further enhance my time management skills to ensure that I meet my full-time work commitments as well as my studies and sit up late nights till 3-4am with the hope that all these will eventually pay off. Firstly, all glory to the almighty that continues to guide me throughout my journey as I navigate through life and all my responsibilities.
Secondly, having support from my full-time employer go’s along way and will forever be grateful for the growth opportunity and continuous leading opportunities which I highly appreciate. Thirdly, the support from the Chief Justice; the Executive Director; executive management; and the internal audit department of the Office of the Judiciary made it so much easier for me to discharge my roles and responsibilities. Fourthly, to the audit committee members, I could not have done this on my own as it is a collective effort from each and everyone of you, your hard work and effort has definitely also lessened the burden on me.
Finally, to my family and friend that supported and continue to support me throughout my journey, thank you very much.