Mboweni gives caretakers three months to nominate board members; analyst says it’s too short.
The most basic responsibility of an auditor is to ensure that shareholders and potential investors are provided with a company’s accurate and reliable financial records.
An auditor’s independence is important, as stakeholders need assurance of objectivity and integrity when a company’s financial statements are accounted for. This is why the much-publicised audit failures at private and public companies over the last decade, as well as the failure of auditors to respond timeously to issues of misconduct in the industry, is very concerning.
The fall-off in standards can be seen in SA achieving the top-ranking for the strength of auditing and reporting standards in the World Economic Forum’s 2013–2014 Global Competitiveness Report but has fallen to 49 out of 141 countries in the 2019 report.
The revelations coming out of the state capture inquiry regarding the alleged complicity of auditing firms in aiding the decay of governance at state-owned entities, and the accounting scandals at JSE-listed companies Tongaat Hulett and Steinhoff have affected the perception stakeholders have of the profession.
The Independent Regulatory Board for Auditors (Irba) has not escaped unscathed from this negative perception, following numerous high-profile scandals over the past few years. These negative perceptions are one of the reasons behind the resignation of Jenitha John as Irba chief executive on Tuesday.
This follows the dissolution of the board by Finance Minister Tito Mboweni. John’s eight-month tenure at the helm of the regulatory body was plagued by challenges: from reports of board infighting to her previous non-executive directorship of Tongaat Hulett at the time of the company’s accounting scandal, which cast a shadow over her time at Irba.
Although John herself was not implicated in the Tongaat matter, Irba caretakers Nonkululeko Gobodo and Roy Andersen said in a statement that John feels “that it would be in the best interests of the Irba” that she call it a day as chief executive. The whole ordeal negatively affects Ir-ba’s credibility as a regulator, says Deloitte chief executive Lwazi Bam.
Going for-ward, Irba should reinvent itself into a credible regulator – and a stable board and leadership is essential to achieving that goal, Bam says.
Mboweni has given Gobodo and Ander-sen three months to nominate members of the new board, who will then be tasked with appointing a new CEO. The regulator can then begin to pick up the pieces and get back on its feet.
For chartered accountant and commentator Khaya Sithole, the time period given for the caretakers is too short. He says the regulator effectively shot itself in the foot when it appointed John – and attracting highly qualified people for the board, following recent events, will be no easy feat.
When organisations find themselves in a crisis, there are very few people who will volunteer to be turnaround soldiers, Sithole says. He adds that the individuals who accept nominations to serve on the Irba board will most likely be required to take responsibility as opposed to ordinary board members.
“I don’t see people queuing in line to take this on unless the caretakers are able to convince a lot more people to put their hands up and ensure them that support will be provided,” Sithole says.
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