PROTECTING THE PROFESSION AGAINST DISREPUTE
It would be highly ingenious, controversial and contestable if the Disciplinary Committee of the Association of Certified Chartered Accounts (ACCA) were to find one of its members guilty of misconduct on the mere basis of an allegation.
The ACCA can and does exercise disciplinary action against its membership. However, in the exercise of this function, the ACCA is not duplicating or co-opting the judicial or quasi- judicial functions of courts or tribunals of competent jurisdictions.
The purpose of such disciplinary action is not to punish the member for the actual wrong which he or she is accused of. If the member has committed a wrong, that member should be punished by the competent courts be they criminal or civil. If the member has been the victim of an adverse finding by a civil court, it is for that court to determine its own sanction.
The disciplinary proceeding which may be instituted by the professional association is intended to protect the reputation of that association, the member, the firm to which that member is associated or the accounting profession as a whole.
It is surprising in Guyana given the sort of visceral and often scathing attacks – at times seemingly vindictive and personal- by members of the accounting profession against their peers- that no member has yet been expelled for bringing the profession and the association into disrepute because of the nature of these attacks.
It is equally surprising that given the many concerns about ethical controversies in the local accounting profession, that no complaints of unethical conduct were ever filed against those against whom the allegation of unethical conduct was expressed. At one time there was even a controversy over the analysis of the accounts of some firms being publicized in the newspapers when those of other firms were not.
The accounting profession is by nature one that tries to uphold high ethical and professional standards. It is natural that the profession and its associate bodies would want to ensure their good reputation, especially in light of the highly publicized accounting scandals that have rocked the profession in the United States and elsewhere.
As such many associations have developed rules which provide for sanctions for misconduct. One such body is the Association of Certified Chartered Accountants (ACCA). Members of the ACCA are liable to be disciplined by the Disciplinary Committee of the ACCA whenever they are guilty of gross misconduct.
It should be made clear here that the ACCA does not try the individual or individuals concerned for the actual offense on which the misconduct is premised. Thus, for example if an accountant is before the Disciplinary Council for defrauding a client, the role of the Disciplinary Committee is not to try that person for the actual charge of fraud but merely to determine whether any proven misconduct affects the reputation of the accounting association, the member, the firm with which that member is associated or the accounting profession as a whole.
That is whether any proven misconduct leads to disrepute.
Obviously, the misconduct has to be established. A mere allegation or the expression of an opinion by a fellow professional is not sufficient to establish that misconduct has occurred.
Among the basis for establishing misconduct would be conviction of the accused member by a court of competent authority. The findings of civil proceeds can also be the basis for establishing misconduct. Any such adverse findings by criminal or civil courts of competent jurisdictions establish a prima facie case but itself does not lead to an automatic finding of guilt of misconduct by the professional association. The association must ensure due process before imposing sanctions.
A member may be sanctioned for both acts in his or her professional life as well as for acts done in his or her personal life. This is in keeping with the notion that the desire of the association is to guard against being brought into disrepute by the actions of its members.
Obviously where misconduct is as a result of criminal acts, the association is likely to take strong action. Where there is proven dishonesty, the member may be expelled and/ or fined.
Where there is ethical misconduct, the same applies depending on the degree of the misconduct. A member expressing remorse may mitigate his or her sanction. There have been instances where either a fine or reprimand has been offered.
What is important is that the process is fair. An accused person cannot be sanctioned because someone feels that person has been in violation of the law or breached some professional code. An allegation has to have merit and should not be used to pursue a vendetta against another.