16 December, 2017

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‘Open Letter’ To Chandra Jayaratne: Why Is Auditor Corruption Ignored?

By Amrit Muttukumaru

Amrit Muttukumaru

Amrit Muttukumaru

In recent times you have written ‘Open Letters’ almost on a weekly basis also to the President and Prime Minister of Sri Lanka urging a credible investigation of the alleged Central Bank Treasury Bond scams and the need for accountability for any wrongdoing. Your focus has been on the role of then CB Governor, Arjuna Mahendran despite other parties such as the Bank of Ceylon also said to be involved. The mere replacement of Mahendran with a new Governor by no means closes the chapter on this saga. One would have thought the first order of priority of the new Governor – Dr. Indrajit Coomaraswamy said to be a “respected economist” with “integrity” would have been to restore the battered credibility of the CB by initiating a credible in-house investigation to determine whether due process on Bond issues were breached and by whom and the public duly informed. Maybe he has done so except for the fact the public are unaware. I trust he will set the record straight in the public interest and for his own credibility.

However, the focus of this ‘open letter’ is on a much larger issue – the systemic corruption in this country primarily due to the complicity or negligence of professionals – particularly chartered accountants/auditors and lawyers. After all chartered accountants /auditors are the first line of defence against corruption in all entities dealing with financial resources. Unless this is meaningfully addressed, scams will galore as we witness on a regular basis. Current examples of credible allegations of wrongdoing apart from the Bond issues relate to (i) purchase of coal (ii) road construction contracts (iii) import of luxury vehicles (iv) construction of 65,000 houses in the North and East.

One could even question whether abuse of power relating to nepotism and cronyism in key appointments to state institutions could have occurred if professionals stood their ground on principle. An example is the senior chartered accountant with impressive management experience as Executive Chairman of a leading state institution tolerating two ‘Joint Managing Directors’ one of whom is said to be closely related to a key cabinet minister. Other glaring examples of nepotism and cronyism relate to Sri Lanka Telecom and Sri Lankan Airlines.

In a similar vein could the alleged terrible corruption and abuse of power under the Rajapaksa administration have taken place without the complicity or negligence of professionals?

Let me emphasize – this by no means exonerates wrongdoing by politicians. They must be held accountable for their command responsibility.

Baffling

It is baffling why you, ‘Friday Forum’, Transparency International Sri Lanka and others purportedly battling corruption steer clear of ‘naming & shaming’ and demanding accountability from Chartered Accountants faulted for grave professional misconduct by the Supreme Court, Parliament’s watchdog COPE, the Attorney-General and CA Sri Lanka ‘Ethics Committee’ itself in the scandalous privatisation of the Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation causing huge losses to the people of this country? It is in this context that unbridled corruption flourishes with impunity.
This is amazing since you are a senior chartered accountant yourself. What is holding you back? Although activists talk the hind legs off a donkey on the evils of corruption and some get paid for doing so, they fail to bite the bullet by ‘naming & shaming’ errant professionals and bigwigs in the corporate sector complicit in the corruption of politicians. Of course all allegations must be substantiated.

CA Sri Lanka

The integrity of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Sri Lanka (CA Sri Lanka) is heavily compromised due to its shameful conduct after my ‘complaint’ made as far back as 8 August 2005 of the ‘Professional Misconduct’ by the Sri Lanka affiliates of PwC and Ernst & Young (EY) in the fraudulent SLIC privatisation. To date it has not concluded its investigation, has reneged on its undertakings given to me and kept me the complainant in the dark. This is notwithstanding several written reminders. The undertaking includes “to complete the investigation early and transparently.” (Ref. CA Sri Lanka e-mail of 13 March 2006)

While PwC (Indonesia & Sri Lanka) functioned as Consultant, ‘Investment Banking and Legal Advisory Services’ to the Government of Sri Lanka, EY (Sri Lanka) were the ‘Auditors’ to SLIC.

Professional Misconduct

1) Supreme Court

The professional misconduct of PwC and EY even confirmed by the ‘Supreme Court’ has not prodded CA Sri Lanka to fulfil its statutory obligation! The ‘Supreme Court’ (SC FR Application No: 158/2007) in its landmark Judgment delivered on 4 June 2009, held the SLIC privatisation to be “illegal and invalid ab initio” and had ordered the removal “forthwith” of the auditors, EY. The judgment is also signed by incumbent Chief Justice Hon. K. Sripavan.

2) COPE

Parliament’s watchdog COPE under its then Chairman and incumbent Minister of Justice Hon. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe in its Report dated 12 January 2007 inter alia stated: (emphasis mine)

i)”Ernst & Young auditors and PWC consultants were directly involved in the said fraudulent conduct.”

ii) “The said sale has taken place on unaudited accounts and thereby it was not possible to enter into any kind of share transaction. It also appeared the accounts have been surreptitiously and intentionally adjusted.”

iii)”Deva Rodrigo, Senior partner of PWC has been a member of the steering committee selecting PWC as consultants to the Government, and continuing thereafter as a steering committee member supervising the work of PWC and approving payments to PWC.”

iv)“Chairman, PERC who handled this SLIC transaction and later Secretary to the Treasury, Dr. P.B. Jayasundara has been a Senior Policy Advisor to Ernst & Young, and had failed and neglected to act in the interest of the Government in this matter.”

3) Attorney-General

The Attorney General by his letters dated 11 April 2005 to PwC (Sri Lanka & Indonesia) and EY (Sri Lanka) served notice of instituting legal action for professional negligence in relation to the SLIC divestiture.

4) ‘Ethics’ Committee

The CA Sri Lanka ‘Ethics’ Committee more than nine years ago endorsed the findings of its Investigating ‘Panel’ of a prima-facie case of ‘Professional Misconduct’ by PwC and EY and all their Partners.

The Act of incorporation of CA Sri Lanka as per Section 17 (2) (b) clearly stipulates that when an ‘Investigating Committee’ appointed by the ‘Council’ “reports to the Council that a prima facie case of professional misconduct has been made out against a member, the Council shall appoint a disciplinary committee for the purpose of inquiring into the conduct of such member” (emphasis mine).

CA Sri Lanka must disclose whether the said “disciplinary committee” was appointed and if not why? If appointed it must forthwith disclose its findings.

It is appalling that CA Sri Lanka has been dragging its feet on this issue for more than nine years after its ‘Ethics’ Committee endorsed a prima-facie case of ‘Professional Misconduct’ by PwC and EY and all their Partners.

What rational reason could there be for inaction by CA Sri Lanka other than a blatant ‘cover-up’? Why are you tolerating this?

Conclusion

Under the ‘Partnership’ law in Sri Lanka, all ‘Partners’ are ‘Jointly and severally’ liable for any wrongdoing. All Partners are aware of every audit and assignment. It is unethical for any ‘Partner’ to plead ignorance. In the context of the fraudulent SLIC privatization taking place on 11 April 2003, are not all those who were ‘Partners’ of PwC and EY at least for five years prior to 11 April 2003 liable?

It is outrageous that some ‘Partners’ falling under this period are appointed ‘Directors’ of ‘quoted’ companies and Banks. Some have even been appointed to the ‘Quality Assurance Board’ of CA Sri Lanka!

As a senior chartered accountant and good governance activist should you not in the public interest:

1) In the context of CA Sri Lanka being a statutory body established by Parliament by Act No.23 of 1959 write an ‘Open Letter’ to Hon. Karu Jayasuriya – Speaker of Parliament urging him to demand that CA Sri Lanka forthwith credibly concludes its investigation of my ‘complaint’ of ‘Professional Misconduct’ by the Sri Lanka affiliates of PwC and Ernst & Young in the fraudulent SLIC privatisation confirmed by (i) Supreme Court (ii) Parliament’s COPE (iii) Attorney-General (iv) CA Sri Lanka ‘Ethics Committee’ and report to Parliament through the Speaker?

2) Write an ‘Open Letter’ to President, CA Sri Lanka – Lasantha Wickremasinghe demanding that CA Sri Lanka forthwith discloses the identity of those who were ‘Partners’ of PwC and EY at least for five years prior to 11 April 2003 which is the date on which the scandalous SLIC privatization took place?

Those reluctant to responsibly ‘name & shame’ professionals, corporate and NGO bigwigs for wrongdoing and demand accountability have clearly lost the moral authority to speak of good governance and any pretense to combat corruption.

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Latest comments

  • 6
    0

    CORRUPTION BREEDS CORRUPTION; No one is immune to this principle in Sri Lanka. No citizen has been spared from corruption related activities in Sri Lanka since 1953. That includes everyone in the Judiciary, Financial and Administrative services. Irony is even religious leaders too have not been spared. Corruption is everywhere; the writer and the accused individuals must stand in front mirrors and ask the question “Am I free from corruption or corrupt thoughts”

  • 5
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    Chandra is speaking on the “Role of the Auditor in the public perspective ” at the ICASL on the 4th. Trust he will respond to this and deviate a little from the topic to talk on Auditor corruption.

  • 4
    0

    Should we take seriously any more the doctors and professors who regularly spill their vomit in these columns?

    Chandra Jayaratna: Got anything to say?

    • 4
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      A good observation; the individuals quoted (A majority if not 90%) are the children of corruption. All corrupt politicians and these so- called professionals think alike; how to make a quick buck, how to get rich quickly, how to cheat the system and secure a better future for their families at the expense of the tax payers. They represent the other side of the “CORRUPTION COIN”.

  • 7
    0

    Thanks you Mr. Amrit Muttukumaru for a brilliant piece and analysis of the systemic and systematic nature of corruption among the so called professionals -particularly chartered accountants/auditors and lawyers – and their complicity in the spread of corruption like a virus throughout the government and business sectors.

    This is a very important observation that if professionals stood their ground and maintained ethics the corrupt politicians would not have managed to spread the VIRUS of CORRUPTION in every corner of the county.

    Accountants and lawyers to get clients cater to the corrupt practices of their clients. The case of Namal Jarapassa’s law firm is a good example of the lower depths to which so called professionals have sunk!

    The so called professional bodies have become corrupt to the hilt. Doctors are bought by Phamaceutical companies like Baurs and Co. that give them 5 star conference lunches trips to sell their drugs.

  • 2
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    Corruption is from top to bottom all instigated by the politicians the guardians of the citizens. Until these rascals are put in jail the system will containue. Whether it is yahapalanaya or not all politicians are crooks unless otherwise proved

  • 3
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    Permit me to congratulate Mr. Amrit Muttukumaru on an excellent letter beautifully written with clarity and purpose. We all know how corrupt Sri Lanka and her institutions are. It has been taken for granted that the pay structure of all government sector employees have an inbuilt allowance for bribery income built in. All employments are based not on merit but on who one knows and how much bribe one can pay to members of parliament and others down the line. So what do you expect? Corruption breeds corruption.

    Letters like this are important to bring these issues to the fore and to the attention of powers to be nationally and internationally and to leverage some action against such behaviour. In the case of Sri Lanka it is a long and arduous road I am afraid.

  • 4
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    Chartered Accounting firms are most corrupt especially big names. Most of them are mediocrities and are hell bent on making money. They do a shoddy job making use of the trainees and deliver very unprofessional service. It is not only in Sri Lanka. in US Arther Anderson was taken to task after Enron fiasco. But the CA dominated by partners of big names never will do this. Only hope is some public interest litigation in supreme court if anything is to be done.

  • 3
    0

    The Institute of chartered accountants of sri lanka is controlled by a mafia of big audit firms who cover up each others sins.

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