Q&A with Thobile Dlamini, Africa’s Public Sector CFO of the Year

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Financial Minds: Thobile Dlamini

Q&A with Thobile Dlamini, Africa’s Public Sector CFO of the Year

Dec 11, 2023 | News

Thobile Dlamini, the CFO of Eswatini Revenue Services (ERS), has been named the Public Sector CFO of the Year by ACCA Africa. Thobile had an exclusive discussion with Financial Minds magazine about what winning this award means to her and the highlights of her career thus far.

What does winning this award mean for you?

It is the highlight of my career. I had a one-hour interview with the judges, and I was extremely nervous during the session. I remember thinking afterwards that I should have responded differently to some of the questions. I guess they were impressed with what I presented and recognised the efforts I have put in towards leadership development and the digital journey at ERS.

What stands out for you as a contribution you have made towards your staff at ERS?

I have a passion for financial wellness and have been pushing this agenda within my team. I think indebtedness is a pandemic amongst workers today. I first noted this phenomenon when I was working as an audit manager at KPMG in Mozambique. When I returned to Eswatini in 2010, I saw that we had the same issue. I began reading books on the topic including Tony Robbins’ Money – Master the Game. The more I read, the more insight I gained and I started teaching my colleagues about ways to achieve financial freedom, which culminated to an inhouse ERS’ Employee Financial wellness program. I have since registered a consultancy focused on improving individuals’ financial wellness. Moreover, I am currently pursuing a PhD through the University of Namibia with a thesis centred around assessing the impact of financial literacy and personal financial management on employees’ financial wellness.

How did you end up as a CFO in the public sector?

It was not deliberate. After a decade working for KPMG in Eswatini, Botswana and Mozambique, I felt I needed to explore something else other than auditing. A recruiter phoned me and advised that a new parastatal was being formed christened the Swaziland Revenue Authority (now ERS). The parastatal was taking over the functions previously performed by the Department of Customs and Taxes. The working culture was different from the fast-paced audit environment at KPMG; in my early days I was locked in the office because everybody had left by 5pm, whilst I was still pushing through. I had to shout at the guard through the window to let me out! The parastatal had a mix of public sector employees and a number of us from the private sector. In the end, we made it work, and today, I can proudly say that we are one of the best-performing state-owned entities.

Apart from your contributions in financial wellness, what else are you proud of achieving at ERS?

One of the assignments I was given by Dumisani Masilela, who was the commissioner general of the then SRA, was to find the necessary funding for the construction of our headquarters. As a new CFO, it was not an easy task, and I count it as one of my highlights to have secured the funding and had the transaction approved by the Minister and gazetted. It was a proud moment when we moved into the building.

As a management team, we have also transformed revenue collection in Eswatini from a wholly manual system to digital filing. We got donor funding for a state-of-the-art document and records management system which revolutionised our documents system and propelled us into the digital era.

From a staff development perspective, I have come to appreciate that you must master a concept to teach it to others. For instance, recently, I learned about the concept of Expected Credit Loss (ECL) in IFRS 9, and as a new concept I am still trying to wrap my head around it; I am determined to familiarise myself with it for accurate implementation and to be able to impart this knowledge to my finance team. I will likewise give each of them a concept to master and then teach the rest of the team.

What advice do you have for younger professionals on what to do to achieve success?

When I left university and joined an audit firm for articles, the partner Martin Allison drove me to a client and left me there on my first day. He told me to audit the company and that he would return after a week to see how well I had progressed. I went home and studied my auditing text book again and applied the steps; Martin was amazed when he returned after a week to find that, according to him, I had done a great job. That taught me that if there is something I don’t know, I can learn it. Also, getting a degree is only the beginning; you need to apply yourself to continuous learning to get ahead. Have a curious attitude and make yourself relevant using all available avenues, including reading books, attending seminars and listening to podcasts.

Be sure to avoid groupthink! It is very easy to be caught in a herd mentality where you all just do something as a crowd. A good professional should use his or her mind to weigh the different options and come to their own conclusions.

Thobile’s favourites

Car – Land Rover Defender or Mercedes G Wagon

Restaurant – The Meat Factory in Maputo

Meal – Oxtail & dessert wine

Hobby – Singing. I used to be a Manzini Choir member and continue supporting them as a patron. I am also studying music in preparation for the exams administered by the UK’s Royal School of Music.

App – Audible for when I am driving and Kindle for when I am seated quietly. I am currently listening to Ikigai and reading Fast Like a Girl.

Movie – The Equalizer

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