Betty Ombima-Achoch tells about her Accounting Career in Kenya
Please introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your background in the accounting profession?
My name is Betty Ombima-Achoch. I am a Kenyan, married with two beautiful girls. For 29 years I held accounting positions in various government ministries. I voluntarily retired in 2012 and now play the role of mentor. I am a life member of the Young Women’s Christian Association and was the organization’s National Treasurer for five years. I speak English, Swahili and Dholuo.
Tell us about your academic background.
I went to various schools in the Republic of Kenya which essentially provided me with a solid academic background to qualify for admission to the prestigious National Alliance girls’ High School where I acquired high grades at “O” level . Subsequently for my “A” Level studies I was keen on studying Economics which was at the time offered in very few secondary schools in Kenya. At the time of the school selection I recall having applied to Kisumu Boys’ High School (which was to start a new stream to admit Girls) to study Economics and Geography and Mathematics. However the school had no boarding facilities and my parents declined the offer and instead we jointly agreed to apply for admission to Kangaru School, Embu which could offer similar subject combinations. Upon admission to Kangaru School, I excelled in my pet subject of Economics with a straight principal “A” among other high grades in Mathematics and Geography. University admission was automatic where I intended to specialize in Economics proper (3-1-1). The University of Nairobi, instead granted me admission to undertake a degree course in Bachelor of Commerce (Accounting Option).
My career in Accountancy was thus established and after weighing my options upon completion I chose to work in the Public Sector (as a Civil Servant) and joined the scheme of service for Accountants in the country as designed by the Public Service Commission of Kenya.
Why did you voluntarily retire?
I wanted to spend more time with my family. Family has always been my priority, even at the very beginning of my accounting career. When my university classmates – mostly the males – were choosing to go into accounting careers in the private sector, I went the Public Sector route, mainly because working in the Public Sector is less stressful and more flexible.
What other differences are there between having an accounting career in the Public Sector and having one in the Private Sector?
Obviously there is higher remuneration in the Private Sector. However, in the Public Sector, there are numerous training opportunities.
Did you take advantage of this availability of training opportunities?
Oh yes! While at the Ministry of Finance, I took a Senior Financial Management Course at the Kenya Institute of Administration and a World Bank Financial Management course in Washington D.C. While at the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, I took another Financial Management course in Copenhagen, Denmark and while at the Ministry of Health and Medical services, I took yet another Financial Management course at the Management Development Institute in Illinois.
Of all the courses you had the privilege of taking over the span of your working life, which courses would you say stood out for you?
Memorable courses included INTERNATIONAL FUND FOR AGRICULTURAL DEVELOPMENT(IFAD) COURSE for project Accountants in East Africa which was held under the auspices of the Glasgow Caledonian University in Scotland, United Kingdom for about nine weeks. In between there were many performance improvement courses held locally in the country primarily at the then Kenya Institute of Administration (currently known as Kenya School of Government).
Other vital courses at International Institutions included a Project Accountants course for World Bank funded Projects for Developing countries held in Washington DC ,USA which brought together participants from Africa, Asia and, Latin America. The course, as expected, sharpened our skills in processing huge multi-dollar claims in various sectors of the Economy in Kenya emanating from various line Ministries to the Headquarters at the national Treasury.
Within Africa I had the special privilege of attending courses in Pretoria , South Africa and in Kampala Uganda where the East African joint approach in accounting issues were being harmonized.
So looking back, I would say that the short training stints were invigorating and exciting as gradual changes were being introduced for adoption as country systems of Accounting. Needless to state, I had colleagues who enjoyed wider opportunities in their respective areas of operation also depending on the ability to effectively network and collaborate.
Tell us a bit about the typical accounting training in Kenya.
Accountants in Kenya typically take one of two routes; either they do the ACCA examination , which is based in the UK or they do the local CPA Kenya examination. If they do the former, they would have to take some local courses on things like Kenyan taxation laws, because obviously taxation laws vary from country to country.
What would you say is the major difference between your last job and first job in the Public Sector?
The major difference is that in the past, the accounting processes were manual. By the time I was retiring, many of the processes had been computerized. On the one hand, this made work easier and faster but on the other hand, it brought about a new set of challenges especially in terms of security. A lot of money was being lost due to the systems being hacked into.
Was there gender balance in regards to the number of female accountants working in the various government ministries?
Gender balance was a challenge and never really met the current thirty per cent requirement.
Tell us a bit about your experiences as the National treasurer of the Young Women’s Christian Association.
As the National treasurer of YWCA the key issues revolving around proper budgeting/accounting and fundraising were a major challenge to most of the entities . Also accountability seemed to be an area which never truly met the required standards. Book-keeping in general left a lot to be desired .. General competence was fairly average and by and large the organization did not attract the best from the market. Staff turnover tended to be high, more so with changing tide of leadership.
Any high points and low points?
High points in the NGO probably would be the people-centred approach on development and changing lives and cross cultural exchange programs which is in tandem with globalization.
The low points would include the lengthy meetings aimed at building consensus prior to the Annual General meetings with minimal focus on proper participation by more enlightened members. The volunteering approach at times seemed inappropriate when professional input was necessary.
How has your faith played a role in your career as an accountant in the Public Sector?
The culture of cutting corners was pervasive. Many of my colleagues who decided to swim with the sharks found themselves in court and out of a job. I stood my ground regarding what was wrong and what was right and I refused to walk the grey line. My integrity rubbed some people the wrong way but it was what allowed me to remain employed for 29 years.