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South Asian accountants concerned at life after WTO

“To achieve our objectives, the accountancy profession must get closer to the corridors of power”, said Jamaluddin Ahmed, past president of South Asian Federation of Accountants (SAFA), who also is a former Deputy Prime Minister of Bangladesh.

Jamaluddin Ahmed was speaking on Saturday, as a proxy for the chief guest Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, Federal Minister for Investment & Privatisation, who like the Finance Minister the other day, did not turn up on day-2 of the SAFA International Conference 2003. Jamaluddin Ahmed said that in Bangladesh, accountants had always maintained presence in government. He emphasised that it was necessary to get around the bureaucracy and acknowledged that it was the first time that the issue had come up so openly in an Accountants' forum.

Other than that, much of the day's discussion centred around the question of life after WTO. Talking to Dawn on the sidelines of the SAFA Conference, Ashok Chandak, President SAFA who also is president of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India agreed that the world becoming free trade zone and after removal of all tariff barriers after 2005 under the WTO regime was the major worrying issue on everyone's mind. But he endorsed the views of participants that the step had to be reciprocal-that is, countries in the SAFA must get “as easy access of commodities and services to the developed markets as they get with us”, he said, adding that Accountancy profession was the only one in services sector that had given the permission to open up its borders throughout the globe.

Ashok said that it would be quite unacceptable if it wasn't reciprocal and India had taken up the issue at its own level as well as from the SAARC platform. He agreed with Dawn that relationship between professionals is not necessarily dependent upon relationship between politicians and that politics and professions were not interlinked. “SAFA was formed in 1984 and there have hardly been occasions when delegations from Pakistan or India did not attend any conference in each other's country”, he said.

To another question, Ashok stated that the integration between audit firms of Pakistan and India would only be possible when they recognise each other's professional degrees, adding that today no country recognizes the degree awarded by another country. He said that cross border listing of securities between Pakistan and India did not look likely for investing needs easy access to information and research on the target companies.

At the conference, Jamaluddin Ahmed the chief guest said that WTO was “a rich man's club” and that all representations from developing and less developed countries (LDCs) had fallen on deaf ears. “We must fight to get our share in WTO”, said the former politician. He said that while doctors, engineers and lawyers were silent, accountants had started a dialogue on the burning issue.

He told the conference that the Enron debacle had been a blessing in disguise for the accountancy profession for it shook them out of their reverie. “They suddenly realised what the public perception was about the auditors”, he said.

He observed that corporate governance had always been there but third world countries were suffering from lack of state governance. “If state governance is good, corporate governance is bound to be good”, he said. But he went on to praise Pakistan's recently enacted Code of Corporate Governance and said he would take a copy of it as a model for Bangladesh.

He, however, reaffirmed earlier speaker, Mian Mumtaz Abdullah's critique that the regulators should not make corporate governance difficult to be implemented.

Jamaluddin Ahmed talked of the “expectation gap” and stated that “we must deliver what society expects from us, or they would continue to view the profession with contempt and suspicion.” “Accountants must go beyond being mere book keepers. They should be part of business management team, be economists, be able to forecast events and should spend more time on finance and economics and less on accounting”, he said.

Others who spoke at the conference included: Mr Ebrahim Sidat; Mian Mumtaz Abdullah; N Nityananda; M A Baree; Indrajith Fernando; Mujahid Eshai; Badruddin Fakhri and Dr Ashok Haldia from India.

The last one presented his views and fielded questions on the session IV that was titled “WTO – the gathering storm”. But Muhammad Nurul Hasan, director (finance & accounts) Independent University of Bangladesh, who was the session chairman brought a little cheer to the sombre atmosphere by declaring: “I come from a country (Bangladesh) which does not take any storm seriously; whether it be cyclone, storms or hurricane”. That was in lighter vein, but he then went on to endorse the conference's view that World Trade Organization was indeed a serious matter.

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