If we remain true to SAICA’s fundamental ethical principles, which are professional behaviour, integrity, professional competence and due care, objectivity and confidentiality, we will create an environment where there is no ground for the malignant fraud of the corruption virus to grow and spread.
As the world grapples with the devastating impact of COVID-19, it has become clear that our country’s social landscape has many areas where the existing landscape structures collapsed as they were not designed and fortified to withstand the force of the disease. The impact and effects of the pandemic have been immediate. It did not take long for South Africa to realise that our medical/health facilities are not adequate to serve the people during and beyond the pandemic; it did not take long to realise that access to water and clean sanitation is a bigger issue than we have initially perceived it to be. The realities of inequality in our country have been highlighted. As the UN Secretary-General said, ‘COVID-19 has been likened to an X-ray, revealing fractures in the fragile skeleton of the societies we have built.’
However, financial fraud and corruption is a virus that silently eats away the core of our country’s resources. Unlike COVID-19, its results are not immediate. It is like a cancer that fractures the bones while the external structures remain beautifully plastered and cladded. This virus is professionally and intentionally covered up. It is asymptomatic but malignant and its outcome, like that of the coronavirus, is equally devastating.
This financial fraud and corruption virus is endemic in both the private and the public sector. It has exposed the weakened structures of good governance and devalues the perception of financial professionals. Left unattended, we will wake up to a collapse of the profession.
Are we slowly losing our relevance?
Have we become catalysts in facilitating fraudulent valuations and pricing models?
Have we become key role players in advancing and facilitating deals by overlooking material irregularities and issuing ‘unqualified’ audit reports in the name of client retention?
Have we become the required ingredient that plaster the breaks in controls to reflect good governance?
Are we inflating prices and misrepresenting carbon emissions for the sake of increasing sales?
Anyone who has participated in the above has played a role in fertilising the ground for financial fraud and corruption to thrive and normalise.
Do we ever stop to think about at what cost? Is this at the cost of the financial health of our country, at the cost of young upcoming financial professionals, at the cost of investors who are going to place reliance on audited work and due diligence reports produces by us?
As UN Secretary-General António Guterres has noted: ‘Corruption robs societies of schools, hospitals and other vital services, drives away foreign investment and strips nations of their natural resources.’
The question is: as a financial professional, are you the catalyst in the petri dish of fraud and corruption, are you the key ingredient that needs to be part of that fraudulent transaction so that with your skill and your technical expertise the fractures to our financial health continue to widen without being noticed?
As a former director of Kenya’s Anti-Corruption Commission, Patrick Lumumba, said, we have to create an environment where the children of darkness who are the perpetrators of corruption will not have oxygen to breathe.
Finance professionals need not be the enablers of corruption. We need to join hands with other professionals to contain and deal with this virus. We need to disable the existing environment that allows corruption to mushroom and thrive without been seen. This might mean reporting a fellow partner, it might mean losing a client, it might even mean losing your position. But these are the risks that come with the profession. These are the costs of ethical behaviour, but the returns are long-lasting.
As finance professionals, we have to regain and clarify our role in financial society so that no man and no company that desires to defraud any of its stakeholders reach out to you for help.
We have seen CFOs and CEOs who have colluded with boards, with auditors, with suppliers and even with employees to be party to unethical transactions. We have seen some of them ending and unfortunately taking down the livelihood of many with them.
Should you be counted as a catalyst of financial fraud and corruption, or are you the vaccine that will cure the financial fraud, restore the dignity of the profession and contribute to restoring the dignity of our country?
If we remain true to SAICA’s fundamental ethical principles, which are professional behaviour, integrity, professional competence and due care, objectivity and confidentiality, we will together create an environment where there is no ground for the malignant fraud of the corruption virus to grow and spread.
Be counted as an agent of protecting and restoring the profession.
AUTHOR | Mpho Mookapele CA(SA) is CFO and Acting CEO: Energy and Water SETA