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quarterly issue 3

Breaking the mould: Clive Neel on an accounting life in Africa

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 12 Sep 2020

breaking mould

From projects rehabilitating child soldiers to financing an ethanol factory, Clive Neel’s career illustrates the breadth of the ACA, as Penelope Rance finds

Clive Neel qualified at Turquands Barten and Mayhew (now EY) in 1978 and, after a stint auditing in Gambia, found his calling as a financial manager on development projects in Sierra Leone. “They were doing something good for the country, and that’s what motivated me,” he says. 

Civil war ravaged Sierra Leone in the 1990s. Neel and his wife Josephine were evacuated several times, but returned despite the danger. “I was finance manager for an EU-funded project helping the rehabilitation of child soldiers,” he says. “One day a boy stormed into the office, waving a pistol around, saying he was going to kill me if he didn’t get his allowance on time.”

Some tasks have been more traditional. At the Accountant General’s office, Neel established a new government accounting system. “To keep the army’s support, the government had to feed them on time. I deputised for the AG, and I remember the Vice-President sitting outside my office waiting for the cheque to take to the bank to be cashed to buy rice for the army.”

During that time, Neel’s team prepared Sierra Leone’s first set of government accounts for 25 years. “A great accomplishment, and I believe they’ve been produced annually since,” he says.

He has continued to use his accounting skills to aid development. “Wherever you go in Sierra Leone, so many institutions are not functioning well. I felt my background as a chartered accountant gave me a lot of knowledge and experience I could pass on.” The other asset he brought was integrity. “It’s not always been easy, especially during a war,” he explains. 

In 2010, Neel gained a Masters in Development Finance from Stellenbosch University Business School, South Africa. “I was introduced to project financing in Africa, and I found it a real eye opener.” He returned to Sierra Leone as financial accounting manager at Addax Bioenergy, and oversaw the building of an ethanol factory. He also served as financial adviser to the country’s Electricity Distribution and Supply Authority. “I learned about the role of politics in development. I found myself flying to London with the Minister of Energy to negotiate a power purchase agreement.”

Although “mostly retired”, Neel still supports Sierra Leone’s development as treasurer of the local British Chamber of Commerce. “We’re spokespeople for companies with British investments or interests, and try to bring them closer to the government,” he says. He admits that following civil war, Ebola, a devastating landslide and COVID-19, the country can be a hard sell to investors. 

However, he sees investment as a solution to Sierra Leone’s development. “Over the next 10 years, there’s going to be huge interest in Africa,” he says. “Setting up and financing development projects is a specialised art. Accountants need to be ready with the skills to handle these projects.”