Accountability in the Accounting Profession and SAICA’s role
Johannesburg, Friday 13 April 2018 - Back in the day accountants were viewed as task-oriented, pedantic bean counters, typically cast as introverted, glass-wearing math geniuses. Today, however, the picture is quite different and the scope of work has broadened. What does remain consistent is they have always been expected to maintain the values of their professional code of conduct.
With the increase in the number of professional accountancy bodies around the world, the term “accounting profession” includes anybody performing any type of role or function linked to accountancy. These include financial management, accounting, financial reporting, taxation, internal control and risk management, among others. The lines are no longer black and white and the term does not necessarily only refer to individuals that belong to one or other accountancy organisation, it encompasses those outside of these bodies as well.
The South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA), which is one of the 12 professional accountancy bodies in South Africa (SA), defines the “accounting profession” in relation to the chartered accountancy profession. Its mission and purpose is to promote the interests of its members and associates, and its professional interests are always in line with public interest and responsible leadership. SAICA supports the development of the South African economy and society by promoting and enhancing the value of the profession. It is also currently the only professional accountancy organisation in South Africa that has been accredited by the audit regulator in SA, the Independent Regulatory Board for Auditors (IRBA).
At the end of February 2018, SAICA had 43,137 Chartered Accountants [CAs(SA)] and 3,131 Associate General Accountants [AGAs(SA)] as members. 30% of SAICA’s members and associates are active in public practice (MIPP) while the other 70% are Members In Business (MIB). 4,300 of SAICA’s members are registered with IRBA.
Though SAICA’s members are grouped differently depending on the sector they service and their respective functions (MIB or MIPP); they are all subject to the same membership obligations – the SAICA Code of Professional Conduct (The SAICA Code). This code contains their commitment to the chartered accountancy profession and acceptance of the responsibility to act in the public interest. “Both groups are held to exactly the same standards of professionalism and ethics and if either fails in appropriately discharging their responsibilities; then they must be held accountable. But due process must first be followed”, states Lindie Engelbrecht, Executive Director: Members and Global Alliance at SAICA.
While both MIPP and MIB carry out their duties within certain frameworks as prescribed by international bodies’ codes, standards, laws and regulations, the SAICA Code sets out fundamental principles as the basis with which they should comply, such as:
Integrity – to be straightforward and honest in all professional and business relationships;
Objectivity – to not allow bias, conflict of interest or undue influence of others to override professional or business judgements;
Professional competence and due care – to maintain professional knowledge and skill at the level required to ensure that a client receives competent professional services based on current developments in practice, legislations and techniques and act diligently and in accordance with applicable technical and professional standards;
Confidentiality – to respect the confidentiality of information acquired as a result of professional and business relationships and, therefore, not disclose any such information to third parties without proper and specific authority, unless there is a legal or professional right or duty to disclose, nor use the information for the personal advantage of the chartered accountant or third parties; and
Professional behaviour – to comply with relevant laws and regulations and avoid any conduct that discredits the accountancy profession.
“It’s quite clear, if the above codes and standards, and laws and regulations are applied diligently and correctly, as well as with the appropriate intensions, the outcome of the services of MIPP, and the outcome of the professional activities of MIB will undoubtedly be credible, acceptable and in the public interest. However when inappropriate interests and agendas start to interfere with ‘doing the right thing’ credibility goes out the window,” says Engelbrecht.
Events in recent months – like the KPMG SARS report and some of the audits the firm had conducted, the Steinhoff matter, and matters related to certain stated-owned enterprises such as Eskom and Transnet – have resulted in significant criticism of individuals within the profession and caused a concurrent decline in the trust of the profession by both the market and the public at large.
“This has to be dealt with by SAICA; part of which is the independent Ntsebeza Inquiry that is currently underway to investigate the alleged conduct of SAICA members employed by KPMG during the relevant period. The results of the inquiry will feed into SAICA’s normal disciplinary processes.
“SAICA does, however, appreciate that to be responsible, we have to follow due process. We realise that the necessary processes must be allowed to run their course. If not, those that are indeed found to be guilty will benefit even further, since they will get off on technicalities. To be responsible takes time and constraint – but that is how it must be, since that allows you to get to a justifiable result for all,” says Engelbrecht.
SAICA maintains the trust in the profession by administering vigilant investigations and disciplinary processes. The approach can briefly be summarised as follows:
SAICA institutes investigative, and thereafter, disciplinary proceedings against members on receipt of a formal complaint and/or becomes aware of alleged member misconduct. In cases where members are alleged to be involved in illegal activities, SAICA liaises with the relevant authorities mandated to carry out public prosecutorial processes such as the IRBA, the Special Investigating Unit (SIU), etc. Upon finalisation of these investigations, SAICA will be in a position to complete its own disciplinary processes against any individuals that have not complied with its By-laws and the SAICA Code.
In order to ensure that due process is adhered to during the course of SAICA’s disciplinary processes, SAICA does not comment on any disciplinary matters (whether foreseen, pending or ongoing) which have not been finalised. SAICA will provide a full statement of the facts surrounding the outcome once the disciplinary process is complete and the Disciplinary Committee has instructed the secretariat to publish such information.
Depending on the nature of the breach of the provisions of the SAICA Code by any member and upon finding such a member guilty of improper conduct, SAICA’s Disciplinary Committees may order that the member concerned be cautioned; reprimanded; fined to a maximum amount of R500 000 (five hundred thousand rand) per charge; suspended from membership for a period not exceeding five years, excluded from membership or disqualified from applying for membership permanently or for such period as the Disciplinary Committee may determine, or subject to such conditions as the committee may determine.
“The maintenance of ethical standards and compliance with the SAICA code by members, backed by a credible and fair disciplinary process, is non-negotiable for SAICA, as this is the cornerstone of trust and confidence in the CA(SA) designation and profession,” Engelbrecht continues.
“Both locally and internationally the accountancy profession has been proven to be a crucial factor in the stability of markets, growth of economies and job creation. The CA(SA) profession in South Africa is strong and SAICA has enough commitment and courage to repair the damage that has been done and to continue to play a key role in ensuring investor confidence in the capital markets, as well as the public sector in South Africa, which will in turn continue to contribute to the growth of the economy,” Engelbrecht concluded.
The South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA), South Africa’s pre-eminent accountancy body, is widely recognised as one of the world’s leading accounting institutes. The Institute provides a wide range of support services to more than 42 000 members and associates who are chartered accountants [CAs(SA)], as well as AGAs(SA) and ATs(SA), who hold positions as CEOs, MDs, board directors, business owners, chief financial officers, auditors and leaders in every sphere of commerce and industry, and who play a significant role in the nation’s highly dynamic business sector and economic development.
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