Jay Naidoo: Accountants & Accountability: Courage is Free
You are the guardians of us as citizens, sworn to uphold ethics in the business sector, I told the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants this week. Courage is free. It has to be more action than hanging a portrait of Nelson Mandela in your reception or boardroom, or doing the CEO sleep-out, or committing to 67-whatever.
This is edited text of the speech to Chartered Institute of Management Accountants on Wednesday, 20 September 2017.
The headlines over the past few days screamed “KPMG Fighting for Survival”. I thought back to Andrew Canter, the CEO of FutureGrowth, who a year ago sparked a financial revolution. He argued that state-owned enterprises, financial controls and governance were compromised because many appointments to boards and investment committees were political and not based on competence and experience. He stood his ground even when the political Mafia mounted a frontal attack on him. That was courage.
Today we know that “state capture” is a reality. We know that many officials in our state are deeply compromised. We know that billions of rand of our tax money has been siphoned out through a corrupt nexus of business and politics.
You’re a profession established to act as the guardians of us as citizens and protect us against this pillage. You swore an oath to uphold ethics in business. Yet today a giant of your entire sector, KPMG, is in the dock of public opinion. It admits its complicity.
Unashamedly, many in your profession had a role in the weakening of our constitutional democracy and has left millions of South Africans scrambling to put food on the table for their children, with a dysfunctional state unable to deliver the most basic services to millions of others. All for 30 pieces of silver.
Look at Enron and Arthur Anderson in the US in 2001, the Parmalat crises soon after, look at the collusion of construction companies in building stadiums for the Fifa World Cup in 2010, look at the collusion of bread companies that raised prices of this basic staple food to rob the pennies of half of our population in South Africa who live in abject poverty. Who paid for all that? People who live hand to mouth. The Poor.
There has been a litany of betrayals of our trust. The financial crisis of 2008, when the world economy was brought to its knees by the plundering linked to the pyramid systems of toxic debt in the banking sector. Who should have overseen this mess? Isn’t that in your oath?
All overlooked because of your silence.
What are your credentials today?
Do the 55-million South Africans know about your salaries – 250 times the average South African salary, or do the 14-million South Africans, your fellow citizens, who didn’t eat today, know about your bonuses? Do they know that as executives, you have given a clean bill of health to the corporate warlordism we see around state capture in our country? Do they know that they are hungry today because billions, tens of billions of rand have been stolen from the books? Were it not for some fearless, independent journalists in our country we would still be in the dark about the ferocious looting in our country.
I know many of you here are like Andrew Canter. Men and women of integrity. In fact, I am sure that there are more Canters here than the disgraced Anoj Singh, the Chief Financial Officer of Eskom, who has only been suspended from his duties because lenders threatened to recall their loans in disgust at the looting in that organisation. Can you imagine the consequences of decisions and acts of these types of chartered accountants? Their failure has terrible consequences.
Did they stop for one moment and ask themselves how they could break the code of ethics, their oath, and the responsibility they have to protect the people and not ally with the traitors who have captured our state and corporations?
Why should those implicated in these cover-ups not lose their jobs? Why should they not go to jail? Why should their companies not be closed down, or their boards fired for negligence of their fiduciary responsibilities? These are the questions that millions are asking in South Africa. But the same is asked in Africa, and in the world, by billions of ordinary people.
Extend that crassness globally and we see a shocking 85 people control more wealth than 3.5-billion others. Don’t you see anything unjust, unethical and disgusting about that? Does your stomach not turn to see in our country that three men control more wealth than half our population? When 55% of our population lives in poverty and more than half our youth will never have the dignity of a decent job in their lifetimes?
You want sympathy and respect?
Your companies have hidden the deepest corruption and injustice in our democracy since 1994. Now you have to cleanse yourselves. It is time to act. It is time for all the Andrew Canters to come forward.
Courage is free.
It has to be more action than hanging a portrait of Nelson Mandela in your reception or boardroom, or doing the CEO sleep-out, or committing to 67-whatever.
I worked with Mandela. Alongside most of the world I experienced him as a pure soul, whose human values and ethics guided us away from the precipice of a racial civil war in this country. A leader whose head and heart were connected by the golden thread of human consciousness and his responsibility to serve his people.
In 2001 he said,
“Little did we suspect that our own people, when they got a chance, would be as corrupt as the apartheid regime. That is one of the things that has really hurt us.”
Did the ones who honoured their oath listen to him? Or were they just content to have him staring down from their walls? Is that not the height of hypocrisy? And now some of them want to come to lecture us about leadership and accountability. There are many who have carried the dagger of betrayal and plunged it deep into our backs.
As I stand here I know that the media has reported the imminent plundering of the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) that manages trillions of rand of the workers’ pension funds and Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) contributions.
Over the years, the PIC’s huge resources have been used to promote mega BEE deals, benefiting the political heavyweights. Billions have been lost due to unwise political decision-making.
Do you have any idea what “billions of rand” means? What it means when you earn in one hour what the minimum wage is per month?
Why should workers’ pension funds be used to bail out state-owned enterprises, which are bankrupted by “extraction machines” of greedy beings? I won’t even call them HUMAN beings.
Remember what the slogan of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was?
Truth hurts but silence kills.
The silence from these beings, some call them accountants, is deafening. Worse! The silence from the union trustees is heartbreaking to say the least. Already the rumour mill speculates about the ousting of those who stand in the way. And more billions will be looted.
What happens to millions of workers who contributed their life savings to these funds? Now they will be thrown onto the streets. Are you ready to sleep in the streets? What happens to the chartered accountants, actuaries, fund managers and state officials implicated in this pillage?
Institution after institution, we see the impunity of corporate theft on a grand scale. African Bank, Denel, Eskom, Transnet, SAA. The sacrilege continues. Don’t you have a vital role in ensuring that chartered accountants have integrity? Have our trust? Surely, some of these CAs should have been named, shamed and imprisoned, or at the very least stripped of their certificate given their violation of their oath.
Some of you might know of these types.
Where’s YOUR courage? DM
This is an edited text of address delivered by Jay Naidoo to the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants in Sandton on 20 September 2017.