The Financial Times recently reported that the Bank of England, UK’s central banking authority, had launched a probe to evaluate if KPMG worldwide will survive the fallout from its South African division’s troubles.
“Such high profile incidents are not indicative of the overall state of accounting,” insists Ragiema Thokan-Mahomed, Legal, Ethics and Compliance Executive at the South African Institute of Professional Accountants (SAIPA). “We can’t let a few deviants destroy a profession that is essentially the world’s economic foundation.”
Accounting integrity stronger than ever
Agreeing with SAIPA’s stance, a 2017 paper from the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC), conducted independently by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR), concluded that accountants play a central role in fighting corruption.
According to Thokan-Mahomed, most accountants have a conscience and adhere to prescribed accounting standards. In fact, the latest International Ethics Standards Board for Accountants (IESBA) handbook obliges practitioners to take action when observing or even suspecting a non-compliance with laws and regulations.
“Like every IFAC member, SAIPA also has a robust investigations and disciplinary structure in place to deal with offenders,” she adds. “However, we can’t monitor the integrity of millions of companies and transactions, so we need eyes on the ground. It’s time for all South Africans to get involved.”
The role of professional accountants
In the past, accountants’ response to NOCLAR (Non-Compliance with Laws and Regulations) was limited by client confidentiality but the introduction of sections 225 and 365 of the IESBA code removes this barrier. Now, Professional Accountants (SA) must be conscious of their role when confronted with a NOCLAR and promptly follow the IESBA procedure when identifying a means to remedy the contravention.
Where a matter is not resolved effectively, they are required to report it to an appropriate authority. Accountants must further establish whistleblowing policies and procedures in their organisation for this purpose. “We want our members to be at the forefront of promoting good practice, so we encourage them to ensure that these systems are in place,” says Thokan-Mahomed.
Investigation and disciplinary process
Anyone can report NOCLAR to SAIPA’s legal department directly, by email or by following the complaints procedure on its website. However, the legal team require adequate information to do their job effectively. If the complaint has merit, an investigation will ensue and the SAIPA member may be visited by an assessor collate the relevant documents and inspect them for compliance with accounting standards. When a whistleblower desires anonymity, SAIPA will take on the role of the complainant.
For lesser offenses, SAIPA’s Investigations Committee can levy a fine against the transgressor. However, where gross misconduct is apparent, the matter is passed to SAIPA’s Disciplinary Committee. If convicted, a member could be struck from the Institute’s membership role and their dismissal is publicised to protect the public and SAIPA’s reputation. SAIPA is currently negotiating agreements with other accounting institutes to prevent disgraced members from joining another body in South Africa or participating countries.
Thokan-Mahomed says observers may become frustrated with the length of the process but notes that dues process must be followed. “Every South African has the right to justice, so evidence must be carefully cross examined and the defence, if any, must be heard. It’s time-consuming but that thoroughness ensures that justice is done.”
Taking a stand
SAIPA calls on all South Africans to join its ongoing battle against NOCLAR. “We have the systems in place to fight corruption,” concludes Thokan-Mahomed. “But we need information from our members and the man in the street. Together, we can win.”
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