Following President Ramaphosa’s announcement of a risk-adjusted reopening of the economy, companies will be able to depend on the full services of their Professional Accountants. As a professional service, accounting firms fall into the Level 4 category of businesses that can resume operations from 1st May 2020.
“This is provided both accountant and client adhere to the strict regulations meant to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus,” It is however still advised that where possible accountants continue to work remotely. says Faith Ngwenya, Technical and Standards Executive at the South African Institute of Professional Accountants (SAIPA)
Compliance not optional
It is important for accountants and other qualifying organisations to recognise that, come 1st May, it will not be business as usual. They must first lay the groundwork for the resumption of operations by having in place COVID-19 risk assessments and plans, and educating workers on COVID-19 and protection measures.
They must implement systems for identifying and protecting vulnerable employees, safely transporting employees, screening employees entering the workplace, preventing viral spread in the workplace, ensuring surfaces and shared equipment are kept clean, providing good ventilation and managing sick workers. Further, only one third of a company’s staff may be present at its place of operation and it is advised that, where possible, employees must work from home.
This is over and above the generally demanded practices of maintaining a social distance of two metres from others, wearing a face mask outside home (now officially ordered by the President) and washing one’s hands frequently.
Although SAIPA is still waiting for full regulations to be issued by the government, it appears that accountants will not need to apply for an essential services permit. However, with the large deployment of troops, it is conceivable that roadblocks will continue and those who cannot prove their business may be turned back. “We advise that Professional Accountants keep their ID and PAO membership card with them at all times as a precaution,” says Ngwenya.
Compliance and relief
Because many SMEs are not connected to the Internet and their data is held onsite, their accountant must travel to the company’s premises to perform their duties. This includes the compilation of the financial reports, projections and documentation without which organisations cannot apply for relief funding from the various available government programmes.
Companies also have the option to defer SDL payments for 4 months as of 1st May (not including April, as some have wrongly stated), as well as 35% of PAYE payments for the month of April onwards. “However, this relief is only available to those who are tax compliant,” warns Ngwenya. She directs companies to have their accountant settle their tax obligations before making any applications.
Restarting the economy
Ngwenya reports that SAIPA recently appealed to various Ministers to classify Professional Accountants as an essential service in light of the above. With the easing of restrictions, practitioners can now resume their critical role as economic enablers.
“Businesses cannot recover without their Professional Accountant’s input. So SAIPA pleads with both parties to adhere closely to all COVID-19 regulations and restrictions to ensure we do not return to the previous lockdown status,” she concludes.
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