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‘Only zero tolerance can save us from corruption’

THE Pan-African Federation of Accountants (PAFA) last week held its annual general meeting in Victoria Falls. PAFA is a continental body representing Africa’s professional accountants. Established in May 2011, PAFA is a non-profit organisation currently with 56 professional accountancy organisations from 45 countries, boasting of 125 000 professionals. Zimbabwe Independent editor Faith Zaba (FZ) spoke to the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) president Alan Johnson (AJ) on several issues, including corruption and the role accountants can play to help navigate the many challenges being faced by Zimbabwe, Africa and the world. Below are excerpts of the interview:

Fact file: Alan Johnson

  •  Became IFAC president in November 2020
  • Based in the United Kingdom
  • Previously served as deputy president from 2018-2020 and a board member since November 2015.
  • Was nominated to the IFAC board by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA).
  • On January 1, 2021, he was appointed a non-executive director and member of the Audit and the Succession and Appointments Committees of Imperial Brands plc, a FTSE 100 company in the UK.
  • Is a former non-executive Director of Jerónimo Martins SGPS, S.A., a food retailer with operations in Portugal, Poland, and Colombia, having completed his board mandate in 2016.
  • Is currently the independent chairperson of the company’s Internal Control Committee.
  • Previously he was chief financial officer of Jerónimo Martins from 2012 to 2014.
  • Between 2005 and 2011, he served as chief audit executive for the Unilever Group.
  • Also served as chief financial officer of Unilever’s Global Foods businesses and worked for Unilever for 35 years in various finance positions in Africa, Europe and Latin America.
  • Was a member of the IFAC Professional Accountants in Business Committee between 2011 and 2015, a member of the ACCA’s Market Oversight Committee between 2006 and 2012 and chair of the Accountants for Business Global Forum until 2018.
  • Was a member of the board of Gildat Strauss Israel between 2003 and 2004.
  • Is the chair of the board of governors of St. Julian’s School in Portugal and chairs its Finance and Bursaries Committees.
  • In October 2016, he was appointed to the Board of Trustees of the International Valuation Standards Council and chairs its audit committee.
  • Between July 2018 and September 2020, he was a non-executive director of the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and chaired its Audit & Risk Assurance Committee.

FZ: What is IFAC and its role on the global scene?

AJ: As the global voice of the accountancy profession, IFAC has 180 members representing more than three million professional accountants in 135 countries. Our mission is to serve the public interest by enhancing the relevance, reputation, and value of the global accountancy profession. Our role is to speak out as the global voice of the profession, lead and develop a future-ready profession, and support the development, adoption, and implementation of high-quality international standards. What IFAC aims to do is possible only with our member and associate organisations and our network partners. They represent our profession’s incredible diversity of organisations and people at the country level and as participants in regional and global conversations.

FZ: How does IFAC relate with PAFA and professional accountancy organisations (PAOs) within Zimbabwe?

AJ: PAFA is a very active and important member of IFAC. In the 11 years since its founding, it has quickly become the collective voice for the profession in Africa, and an influential advocate in the global profession. This week’s conference (held on June 27 to 30) is a vital contribution to the profession and a reflection of PAFA’s vision and leadership across the entire continent. The work of IFAC, as well as, that of the independent standard setting boards we support, has benefitted significantly from the service of members of the accountancy profession in Africa – including the total of 16 volunteers currently representing Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe.

The accountancy professional bodies in Zimbabwe are very valuable members of the IFAC family, particularly through our capacity-building work in the country, especially with a focus on the public sector.

I wish to congratulate Institute of Chartered Accountants of Zimbabwe for the celebration of the graduation and admission to membership of the first 10 Public Sector professional accountants in Zimbabwe that will take place on the 4th of July, and I welcome the 10 public sector accounting professionals into our profession, including Mildred Chiri, Zimbabwe’s Auditor-General, who I met in Vic Falls this week.

FZ:  We have a lot of challenges in the world today, be it Covid-19, the war in Eastern Europe or jurisdiction specific issues. What role can accountants play to help navigate the many challenges being faced by Zimbabwe, Africa and the world?

AJ: You are absolutely right the world is facing many challenges that are affecting economies and society. In addition to Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine, the world has been affected for much longer from the devastating effects of climate change.  Professional accountants have always played an important role in supporting the sustainable development of economies and societies. It is now time to expand our language and apply it urgently to create sustainable value. And our ambition is global. Why? Because we all live in an inter-connected global village, where the effects of climate change, or poor social behaviour or ineffective governance impact every country.

There is great need and growing demand for information on environmental, social and governance issues – or “ESG” issues. The accountancy profession is responding to meet that demand.

FZ: Professional accountants are in key influential position in all sectors of the economy. In this context, we often hear those accountants have a public interest responsibility. Please elaborate on this.

AJ: For IFAC and our profession, “Public Interest” means that we serve the public, and that whatever we do must take into account the needs to citizens and society. We must ensure that our actions and the advice we give to corporations or governments must be unbiased, transparent, independent, honest and ethical.

Surveys we have conducted over the years consistently show that the accountancy profession is one of the most trusted professions across the world, and this is so because of how we approach our public interest mandate supported by our International Code of Ethics for Professional Accountants, the only profession that has ethics codes that are mandatory for all professional accountants in all counties where IFAC has members.

FZ:  What role should professional accountants play in engaging with the policy-makers and the government?

AJ: The engagement with policy-makers and the government is key to everything we do. We bring insights and perspectives from the ground that can help shape policies to ensure they are appropriate for businesses and society. I discussed many examples of such engagement with the Zimbabwean professional accountancy bodies, and others from across Africa, this week, and I am impressed with how we are able to use our public interest mandate to help focus policies that have the most impact of ensuring sustainable growth of economies and the equitable and inclusive development of societies.

FZ: What are the key themes that IFAC is focussing on?

AJ: The key themes IFAC is focusing on are sustainability, building capacity of the accountancy profession, especially in the public sector, resilience of organisations and society, supporting the SMEs and the small and medium-sized practitioners, who are their key advisers, and working to fight corruption and related financial crimes.

FZ: As you highlighted the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that the world loses US$3 trillion per annum to corruption. This vice is growing, how can it be managed?

AJ: Well it starts with each of us individually as professional accountants. We must have a zero tolerance for any form of corruption which, as we know, ultimately impacts the poorest in society as it denies them access to the necessary resources they need. We must then work with governments and institutions to put in place systems and processes that prevent or detect any form of corruption, support nations to establish appropriate laws and regulations to deal with corruption and financial crimes, and campaign for an effective system of justice that holds people to account for such immoral activities.

And let me say when the word “corruption” is mentioned most people immediately think it is a developing country issue: it is not; it is a global issue, and corruption happens even in some of the most advanced economies.

FZ: You spoke about collaborations between accountants and legal practitioners. What areas should such bodies work on?

AJ: At the present time I would focus on the work we are doing with the International Bar Association to ensure the architecture and frameworks to prevent corruption and deal with corrupt practices are effective. I would encourage all professional accounting bodies is every country to work closely with the legal profession in their countries so we can gain real leverage across the world. Corruption can only be completely eliminated when it is eliminated in every country!

 FZ: Which other synergies with other professions should the professional accountants enter into?

AJ: Through our Regional Network Partners, such as the Pan-African Federation of Accountants (PAFA), we encourage all of our accountancy organisations to share resources, knowledge and experiences so we can leverage our expertise and raise our standards across all countries. This is being done to a great extent across Africa, and I saw many examples of this at this week’s PAFA Leadership Conference in Zimbabwe, where our discussions focused on the public sector, sustainability, public sector resilience and the fight against corruption and related financial crimes.

Let me take this opportunity to thank Zimbabwe for your wonderful hospitality, PAFA for supporting the African accounting profession, and all professional accounting organisations in Africa for your great work to enhance the value and reputat

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