- As law enforcement agencies will now access information from the Zondo commission, how far would professional bodies go with their disciplinary hearings if they could also work closely with the authorities?
- SAICA CEO Freeman Nomvalo says if their members' transgressions were also investigated by prosecuting authorities, they would finalise disciplinary processes faster.
- But currently, they cannot even subpoena members to appear before a disciplinary committee.
The amended regulation of the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture, which will allow law enforcement agencies to access information, and the National Prosecuting Authority to employ some of the commission's staff, has given rise to the possibility that implicated parties may be put behind bars.
But elsewhere in the myriad of commissions and disciplinary hearings where people accused of wrongdoing are investigated around the country, the wheels of justice are turning more slowly. Almost three years after the latest series of accounting scandals in SA first erupted, most accountants and auditors being investigated for their involvement are yet to be charged, or are facing drawnout disciplinary hearings.
Only a few of these processes have yielded consequential outcomes, like the former KPMG auditor of Linkway who was struck off the roll by the regulator, and the arrest of former VBS auditor Sipho Malaba in June.
Meanwhile, former Eskom CFO Anoj Singh, by contrast, did not attend the disciplinary hearings. Similarly, disgraced Steinhoff CEO Markus Jooste chose to tender a resignation as a South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) member in 2019, instead of going through a disciplinary inquiry. However, SAICA did not to accept his resignation, choosing to suspend him instead.
"SAICA is not a statutory body. It's not an extension of government," said CEO Freeman Nomvalo during an interview with Fin24.
SAICA is the custodian of the chartered accountancy profession in SA and, as such, is tasked with disciplining members who fall within and outside of the Independent Regulatory Board for Auditors' (IRBA) umbrella. Where its members are both CA(SA) holders and auditors, the IRBA, which is a statutory body, leads the disciplinary hearings and SAICA's actions are informed by the regulator's findings.
Being a professional body that is governed by the rules its members agree on, Nomvalo said what SAICA can do is improve its rules and code of professional conduct. But without the powers to subpoena evidence or investigate criminal charges, there is a vacuum in its ability to hold members accountable, one that needs to be filled by the authorities.
Nomvalo said, if authorities who have the power to subpoena evidence were investigating these matters, or if people within corporates were more willing to share information on their own or through pressure exerted by shareholders, the work of professional bodies would be much easier.
"If you guys come forward and help us with the information that you have, you are helping this system work. What would make the system not work is if there are those do not who step forward," said Nomvalo.
Delays in finalising disciplinary inquiries
SAICA is in a position to know that justice delayed is justice denied. The longer its investigations and disciplinary processes are dragged out, the more time the public has to wonder whether perpetrators will escape punishment.
But Nomvalo said there was a lot more required from it before it could pronounce that a member had been found guilty to avoid being dragged to court, something that tends to happen on high-profile cases.
"So, you've got a high-profile case. It's taking long to conclude. Everybody notices," he said.
"While all of that is happening, you then have the issue of admissibility of evidence. You've got a media article that's so detailed but you can't do much with information that is in that article in the tribunal itself."
SAICA's senior executive for marketing and communications, Willi Coates, said some members who been subject to the disciplinary inquiries hade become wiser on how to delay the process.
"You get instances where they don't pitch because they don't want to incriminate themselves in case there is a legal case later on," he said.