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In Ireland it is rare that particular classes of wrongdoers pay a penalty for their actions or inaction. When crime from dodgy dealing to hideous violence is dragged into the light, the clichés begin; establishment voices call for a line to be drawn under it and for new regulation to ensure that it can’t happen in the future. The anodyne call to forgetfulness is, “We are where we are.” Less popular are, “We must avoid the blame game”, “It was the culture of the time”, “Everyone was at it” or “We must avoid a tendency to demonise”.

What this nonsense means is that with a handful of sacrificial exceptions the elite in Ireland can avoid being held accountable. The political party responsible for the building scam which brought the country close to ruin is once again popular. Those in education, media and management who lacked the ability to see the property/lending folly or lacked the integrity to speak out at the time are still in place. The c.e.o. of Allied Irish Banks considers it a firing offence for managers to take out loans for speculation but no one who did it in the past will be fired. There’s a gunrunner sitting in the Dáil surrounded by colleagues who supported civilian slaughter for years but it is now considered “not done” to scoff at their concerns about inequality and suffering. Indeed looking to recent violent history is considered detrimental to the “peace process”. It would appear that no one guilty of assault or keeping slaves in laundries will face prosecution. Likewise teachers who ignored the rules in regard to corporal punishment can enjoy retirement. Then there are the auditors and board members …

The list can seem endless but around it is the protective, “We are where we are.” It suggests a new verb: “to go wawa”.* Like so many things, going wawa is not a method of escape for everyone. It’s reserved to protect the pillars of our establishment. While citizens will be asked to go wawa when it comes to managers, politicians, teachers, journalists etc., hell will freeze over before a judge says to a car thief, “I’ve agreed to go wawa on your offences. You may leave.” ___________________________________________________________________ * http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Wawa&defid=6964261

http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/breaking/2012/0531/breaking29.html

It would appear that at Bloxham Stockbrokers accounts have been falsified for several years and that the problem involved enormous figures. Now, reassurances have been issued to investors who might be worried. Little is heard, however, of the Bloxham staff who will lose their jobs.

This wasn’t an accounting error. This was wilful. This wasn’t a little backstreet, fly-by-night “enterprise” in fear of being audited. This was a prestigious company which was regularly audited. The fact that the auditors failed should lead to some very hard questioning.

Vincent Browne tackles the auditors. http://politico.ie/social-issues/8586-auditing-firms-banking-crisis-audit-the-auditors.html  He writes about very well-known companies who – despite repeated failure – continue to be taken seriously. Indeed they continue to be awarded work by the state, i.e. the state gives them official recognition of suitability and confidence.

However, because he focusses on these large accountancy/management consultancy firms Vincent doesn’t give due recognition to a couple of issues. Firstly, these failures go to the heart of auditing and its professional status. Secondly, the problem extends beyond the large private firms

The issue of professionalism is at stake here. An essay might be written on its definition which might refer to payment as opposed to being an amateur or to dispassionate as opposed to involved but there is another crucial part of the usual understanding of what it means to be a professional.  Here is the crux of the thing:  if auditors are to be regarded as professionals in the usual sense of the term, they must face their responsibilities individually. In short, when there are failings and problems, questions should be asked not only of the company which employs the auditor but of the auditor himself/herself.

Financial auditing is too important to allow failed practitioners to hide behind their employers. If an auditor has been irresponsible, negligent, incompetent he/she should face sanctions right up to being struck off. Indeed such a level of personal responsibility would countervail the risk that an employer might want a particular outcome.

The second issue absent from Vincent’ piece is that the nonsense extends into the state auditors, the office of the Comptroller and Auditor General. When it was reported that a former member of the board of Fás said that he’d been given assurances by staff of C&AG that all was ok, I wrote to the C&AG to ask if this had been investigated. I also asked had anything been learned from the years of failure to uncover wrongdoing at Fás, had auditing procedures changed, were the staff who had worked on these audits still in place? Many e-mails later, I’m still none the wiser. Well, that’s not entirely true; I was given the run-around rather than an answer but it is clear that nothing changed after Fás.

There seems to be a cumbersome route for initiating complaints against a professional auditor. http://www.iaasa.ie/faq/rms/index.htm What is not clear is whether  complaints are accepted from members of the public as opposed to clients and if this route is open, what is to be done when a member of the public doesn’t know the name of the professional beyond his/her employer.  What is needed is for auditors is something akin to the Irish Medical Council’s approach: http://www.medicalcouncil.ie/Public-Information/Making-a-Complaint-/Making-a-Complaint1.html