PNB fallout: Government plans to set up separate regulator for CAs

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New Delhi: The government is planning to set up a new agency to regulate and discipline auditors as the scam at state-run Punjab National Bank has raised many questions on the role of these professionals. Earlier, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has made public his displeasure with the failure of auditors to check the fraud at the second largest public sector bank. A provision in this regard has already been made in the law before five years.

Setting up of the National Financial Reporting Authority, a new agency provided for in the Companies Act, will be discussed by the Union cabinet on Wednesday (today), a move that will take away review and disciplinary functions of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI). The cabinet will discuss a proposal from the ministry of corporate affairs to allow for creation of posts, paving the way for setting up NFRA with a chairman and up to 15 members, the Times of India reported.

ICAI has been resisting the change as it will be rendered toothless, with education and conducting exams being left as its main role. Several countries have separate agencies to regulate auditors and India had drawn upon their experience. In the US, the task is handled by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, while the UK has the Financial Reporting Council, the TOI report said.

“There is conflict of interest in the current system, that is why we had thought of separating ICAI’s functions in line with global best practices,” TOI quoted D K Mittal, a former secretary of the ministry of corporate affairs as saying.

On its part, ICAI has maintained that there was no need to whittle down its powers. “As per framework of governance, standard setting and disciplinary mechanism prescribed in the Chartered Accountants Act, 1949, a strong public interest oversight mechanism is inherent in ICAI’s structure since eight members on the central council (apex body) of ICAI are nominated by the government of India. Similarly, each disciplinary committee has two government nominees and each board of discipline has one government nominee and the chairman of appellate authority of disciplinary mechanism is a retired high court judge, nominated by the central government,” the institute had said on Saturday when TOI highlighted how the government had gone slow on setting up NFRA.

The law empowers NFRA to recommend to the government the formulation of accounting and auditing policies and standards, monitor and enforce compliance of the standards and oversee the quality of service of auditors. It will have powers to investigate, impose penalties and even debar CAs and firms from practising for six months to 10 years, the TOI report further said.

According to the TOI report, since last summer, the government has been pushing for a clean-up of the audit profession with PM Narendra Modi highlighting the poor disciplinary record of CAs on July 1. PM Modi had said only around 25 auditors had faced action in over a decade and around 1,400 cases were pending, numbers that ICAI had contested.

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