When the public ponders upon the inexorable breakdown of the Rule of Law and good governance that we see all around us, it generally has in mind the failings of only politicians and public servants but CIMOGG is in no doubt that every sector of society is at fault to some extent. Of these, there is one group which has a singularly responsible role in leading the way to improving the body politic; it comprises all those who have formed themselves into professional associations.
Professionals have had the benefit of a good education and specialized training. They have a high standing in society and are looked up to by the public, which unequivocally demands skilled performance and honest dealings from them. By virtue of that fact, one would expect that professionals would, on their own, conform to standards which are an example to the rest of their fellow citizens. However, it is distressing to see how reluctant most professionals are to clean up their own houses by dealing appropriately with those of their fellow members who act corruptly or unprofessionally, neglecting their fiduciary obligations. It is sad to see that the public’s expectations in this regard are far too often fulfilled only in the breach.
The Organisation of Professional Associations (OPA) consists of around 40 professional associations. The Executive Council of the OPA may also enroll any individual member of a member association as a Life Member of the OPA Professional Centre, which is responsible for the promotion of the aims and objects of the Organisation, and the conduct of its business and activities. Any member association may be suspended from membership by the OPA Executive Council upon such member association being found to have violated the principles laid down in Chapter 3 of the OPA constitution. One of these principles is that every member of a member association is required to endeavour always to foster, promote and respect the interests of the nation, his profession and his fellow members. Self-evidently, encouraging, collaborating in or covering up corruption would clearly not be in the interests of the nation or anybody else other than the perpetrators, and would constitute decidedly unprofessional conduct. Failure of the relevant professional association to inquire into and take disciplinary action against an errant member would be a serious reflection on its own integrity.
Recently, a situation has arisen where some issues pertaining to corruption allegedly engaged in by a number of senior members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Sri Lanka (ICASL) are being inquired into both in the Courts (under the laws of the land) and within the OPA (under the constitution of the OPA). There is considerable foundation for concluding that the Executive Council of the ICASL and its Ethics Committee have been dragging their feet in investigating the complaints made against the said senior members. Even the adverse findings made by the Parliamentary Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE), headed by the Hon. Wijedasa Rajapakse MP, have not been investigated to the point where the ICASL has thought it fit either to clear the names of the senior members concerned or to determine whether they have actually acted unprofessionally. The problem for the public, who regard Chartered Accountants as highly responsible and honourable professionals, is that it is understood that the principal reason for this lack of expedition is that some of the more important members of the ICASL’s Executive Council are, or were, among those alleged to have committed the said unprofessional acts, or are close friends and business associates of those so charged. What is most disturbing is that the key procedures stipulated in the ICASL’s own constitution have, as far as we have been able to ascertain, not been followed by its Executive Council and Ethics Committee.
In CIMOGG’s view, it is now necessary for the members of the general body of the ICASL to protect themselves from being considered to be accessories after the fact, helping to hide major cases of corruption involving public assets, where senior members of the ICASL have been named. The general body needs to act now because pressure is being applied on the OPA by the media to put its own house in order (including those of its constituent associations) before endeavouring to pass judgment on those outside the recognized professions.
Under Clauses 4.5 and 4.6 of the OPA constitution, the OPA is authorised to look into the question of whether the a constituent association should continue as a member of the OPA if it (the constituent association) does not investigate the grave charges made publicly against any of its members, as such inaction would plainly be a violation of the principles of Chapter 3 of the OPA constitution. The unvarnished truth is that there would be no need for the OPA to get involved provided that the constituent association does what its own constitution obliges it to do. On account of the fact that the powers that be at the ICASL are not seen to be acting as they are obligated to do by their own constitution, the non-office-bearing members of the ICASL need urgently to safeguard their individual professional reputations by getting this matter sorted out in a legitimate manner. For a start, all those who have been accused of unprofessional behaviour, including covering up for the alleged lawbreakers, should resign their positions in the decision-making committees of the ICASL and make way for a more independent set of office-bearers. The general body should then press the ICASL’s new Executive Council and its new Ethics Committee to go through the substantial volume of documentation already available and take an early decision on the question of whether the accused senior members are guilty or not of unprofessional conduct.
In carrying out this exercise, it is vital that the members of ICASL’s general body forget about friendships and political, business or family relationships and appoint a small, ad hoc Task Force of independent fellow members to see that the new Executive Council and the new Ethics Committee are not pressured by interested parties to delay or interfere with their investigations, conclusions and recommendations, as one fears has been happening over the past several years.