Accountants should be shielded from CEOs, boards
NAIROBI, KENYA: The Government’s recent suspension of accounting officers in public offices raises issues that the profession must research on.
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The output of such research must be fused into the revised Accountants Act.
Another reason as to why the Act should be revised is that it is gender insensitive.
For example, section 30 of the Act on professional misconduct suggests that only males are professional accountants or might be involved in professional misconduct. The statement: “is guilty of gross negligence in the conduct of his professional duties” is gender insensitive.
The Accountants Act No. 15 of 2008, Revised Edition 2012 (2009) and Published by the National Council for Law Reporting with the Authority of the Attorney-General protects the users of services provided by Certified Public Accountants.
However, it is hopeless protecting the accountants from both CEOs, boards and employer excesses. The Act makes sure that only competent professionals practice as certified public accountants. That competency is acquired through passing professional exams, attachment, and experience on the job.
The Act is clear about circumstances under which an accountant is punished: “The accountant is punished if he or she fails to disclose in a financial statement or otherwise a material fact is known to him/her, the disclosure of which is necessary to ensure the financial statement is not misleading; he/she fails to report a material misstatement known to him/her to appear in a financial statement.”
Others include if they are guilty of gross negligence in the conduct of his professional duties, express an opinion on any matter with which they are concerned in a professional capacity without obtaining sufficient information on which to base the opinion, and failing to keep the funds of a client in a separate banking account or to use any such funds for purposes for which they are intended.
The recent mass suspension of accountants in the public sector presupposes that they are potentially guilty of gross negligence in the conduct of their professional duties.
Those suspensions border on an outbreak of a plague in the sector. For justice and fairness, those suspensions should be reviewed because they are likely to unnecessarily harm the affected institutions and harm the reputations of accountants, specifically the innocent ones.
I have spent years training accountants and I can, therefore, vouch for most of them. However, not all accountants are clean and as such, the bad ones should be suspended.
Among those suspended work in the public sector as chief finance officers (CFOs).
The suspension was purely in the best interest of the Kenyan taxpayer.
The question is: Should the accountants have been asked to step aside before the investigations are complete?
Ideally, these ‘suspensions before completion of investigations are recommended if the suspending authority is certain that their presence at work would harm the organisation or interfere with the investigation.
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However, suspending accountants and not the CEO raises pertinent questions. Is it impossible for the accountant who is the CFO to move billions of shillings from an institution without the knowledge of the CEO or the board?
Even if that is possible, what does that tell us about the quality of the CEOs and the board?
A board on whose watch billions of shillings are misappropriated is equally culpable.
Such suspension may also not be helpful if the accountant is later found not guilty.
The suspensions of accountants might not achieve much if the misappropriation of funds is engineered by CEOs or boards that fail to step aside because rationally, they cannot argue against themselves.
It would be equally unfair to ask CEOs and boards to step aside before investigations are complete. Those suspensions affect the reputation of the firms and the lives of the families of the affected accountants.
In future, the State should evaluate the certainty of investigation before suspending public officers.
The normal practice is that investigation is done before asking the officer to step aside.
Accountants must also ask MPs to review the Accountants Act No. 15 of 2008, specifically to include a section that shields accountant from CEOs and board of directors and arbitrary suspensions.
Furthermore, all public accountants should undergo pupillage like lawyers do in a certified audit firm.
The training of accountants should not be left to self-regulation.
-The writer teaches at the University of Nairobi.