Saturday, 2 April 2016

Back to the keyboard

This blog has been left quiet for a while. As I was finishing my final leg at the Securities Commission I decided not to update my thoughts here. Well, last Thursday was my last day as the Executive Chairman of the Audit Oversight Board and the Executive Director for Market and Corporate Surveillance. So, I have more time to spend infront of the keyboard.

So, what am I going to write about?

Certainly there had been many issues in the past six months and many people had provided their views on them in one way or another. Sometimes I wonder whether the internet has provided a false sense of the ability to yell to the world while nobody is listening. However if we consider events in many places where people were mobilised for causes which even resulted in the fall of governments, the power of the web should not be under estimated.

Well, rather than dwelling on topics which not lead to any particular outcome, I have decided to write on topics relating to matters discussed in boardrooms. For the avoidance of doubt (regulators like to express themselves using this kind of sentences), the topics I am writing would not be limited to commercial boardrooms but extends to all decision making structures, whatever they are called.

Why am I choosing such theme?

Apart from the kitchen cabinet, many serious decisions are made in boardrooms. This is true for the corporate and public sectors as well as for the not for profit organisations (would political parties fall into this category?). Hence, I feel that it would be interesting to explore how issues are analysed, discussed and acted upon at this level.

For a start, I would be touching on the area which I had been involved with for the past six years, financial reporting. Yes, the boring stuff which many members of the board would chuck it to their auditors. I would like to offer my perspective that financial reporting it part of the overall task of communicating with stakeholders, something which is very important for the survival of any organisation. Hopefully, this would lead to the publication of a book which would guide members of the board on accountability, reporting and communication.

This does not mean that I would be refraining myself from writing on other topics which are dealt with in the boardroom. In fact, I have set up a Facebook page known as #boardroomviews, a page dedicated to similar theme. Please check this out at

I welcome feedback on the topics to be covered. After all, that is what is expected when on is engaging friends on the internet. If one is afraid to receive comments, perhaps it would be better to stick to typewriter, is one can still be found.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Abrahamic Religions and Professional Ethics

I was interviewed yesterday by a PHD student from Palestine on whether the values of Abrahamic Religions should be embedded in the ethical standards of accountants. 

Before we go into some of the issues raised during the interview, I would like to acknowledge my respect and appreciation for the dedication that she has in pursuing knowledge. Given the calamities that are faced by Palestinians due to the behaviours of the Israelis occupiers, her determination to pursued the PHD in Malaysia is something which I could not imagine to be possible. She has to leave her daughters and son under the care of her husband at home while she is here completing her study. She works for the Palestinian Ministry of Finance where salary is not guaranteed due to the challenges they are facing. Yet, her studies if self-funded.

The change in the government in Egypt makes the situation worse. The Israelis are given better treatment by the Egyptians compared to the Palestinians. The Israelis can enter Egypt without visa 24/7 whereas the border between Egypt and Palestine is only opened for few days in two to three months! Palestinians are not allowed to travel by air into Egypt unless the border is open. Hence, she has to keep her travelling stuff on standby all the time in case she has the opportunity to go back and see her family.

Coming back to the interview, her main contention is that more than half of accountants in the world embrace the Abrahamic faiths. Given the common values shared by the religions, embedding those values in the code of ethics should strengthened the application of the code by Christians, Jews and Muslims who are accountants.

I have a different view.

I believe that if one is really faithful to one's belief (including the believers of the Abrahamic faiths) compliance with the code of ethics would be second nature. As the Abrahamic religions are founded in the belief of God as the Superior Being and humans are His servants and would be made accountable for all their acts and behaviours before Him in the Hereafter, such believe should drive people to do the right thing. If, however, the beliefs and actions are disjointed for whatever reasons, embedding the religious values in the code would not make any difference.

Hence, while the values are common and should technically guide those who are faithfuls to the right conducts and behaviours, the belief itself can have a range of tenacity. The stronger it is, the higher the chances that one would be acting properly, and vice versa. 

I shared with her the example that I had been using especially when dealing with Muslim auditors. It is premised on the hadith - Wathila ibn al-Asqa’  narrates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said, “Whoever sells defective goods without declaring it remains in the wrath of Allah or [he said)] the angles keep cursing him.” (Sunan Ibn Majah 2873).

When an auditor issues an audit opinion, he makes a statement that the audit complies with approved auditing standards. What is the auditor did not even bother to ensure that such standards are complied with in his or her work? would it not transgresses the line declared in the above hadith?

As a conclusion, I view that beliefs reside in the hearts of the professionals whereas code of ethics are conducts which have been collectively agreed by accountants worldwide, irrespective of their beliefs, values and cultures. I do not see any of these conducts which are against the values of Islam, my belief. 

Hence, if I am good Muslim, it would be natural for me to comply with the expectations of the code since they are technically "Islamic" in the first place. However, if I am a weak Muslim and do not bothered about the Day when I will be judged by Allah for all the things that I have done in this world, adding an additional chapter in the code would be just a waste of time. I will just skip the chapter!

Sunday, 20 September 2015

The Evolving Pathways to Professionalism

My friend, Rachel Chee, who is attached to the regional ACCA office posted this piece on news on a Facebook group promoting professional accountancy. It is about one of the Big-4 in the UK ditching degrees as the only point for consideration for new recruits. Not a new phenomena, but a re-affirmation of the changing dynamics in the competition for talents.

I would like to quote some excerpts from the report:

"Ernst & Young, one of the UK's biggest graduate recruiters, has announced it will be removing the degree classification from its entry criteria, saying there is "no evidence" success at university correlates with achievement in later life.
The accountancy firm is scrapping its policy of requiring a 2:1 and the equivalent of three B grades at A-level in order to open opportunities for talented individuals "regardless of their background".
Maggie Stilwell, EY’s managing partner for talent, said the company would use online assessments to judge the potential of applicants.
"Academic qualifications will still be taken into account and indeed remain an important consideration when assessing candidates as a whole, but will no longer act as a barrier to getting a foot in the door," she said. 
"Our own internal research of over 400 graduates found that screening students based on academic performance alone was too blunt an approach to recruitment.
"It found no evidence to conclude that previous success in higher education correlated with future success in subsequent professional qualifications undertaken."
This reinforces my view that tertiary education and professional accountancy programmes have two different objectives. The former is supposed to nurture young minds into personalities with the intellectual capabilities to contribute to the society through specific knowledge and skills learned at universities. The latter is meant to upscale the intellectual personalities into having deeper knowledge, understanding and skills in industry-related disciplines which are demanded in the market place.

If these two important sectors in the economy would be able to align themselves properly, the society will win. Unfortunately in Malaysia, due to historical and emotional reasons, there seems to be competitions amongst the institutions which results in huge inefficiency the supply chain of accountants.
Sometimes when more that one parties sit around the table to resolve issues, the focus would be on the details and the big picture is always missing. There could also be situations when the truth is clear but ego and emotions take precedence over public benefits. The irony is many of the parties involved are funded by taxpayers! Why are interests of taxpayers not important in these discussions?

Sunday, 19 July 2015

WATTOPERS Turn 50's: Celebrating 38 years of brotherhood - Part 9 The Final Year

The final year at the college was very memorable indeed. The finale was the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examinations off course. However, there were many events and incidences which made the year very close to our hearts until today.

As a tradition, those in form 5 will be part of the Parsatuan Pelajar Tingkatan 5 or PPTL in short. While we were already classmates and dorm mates, PPTL enabled us to do a number of activities as the most senior students of the college. We printed t-shirts, organised events and also performed at the Malam PPTL which was the sign off event for every batch.

As it got closer to the end of the year, the preparation for the SPM got more intensified. Extra classes and additional notes were thighs that we were provided with to enhance our chances to perform well. For some, those were also reminders that they had to start studying! I remember Mr. Matthias worked very hard to ensure we all would do well in History, the subject that he taught. Given the diversity of the students that he had in our class, ensuring one-half of the class to pass was certainly very, very challenging. He distributed copies of notes and we were required to answer pass year questions regularly throughout the year.

We were encouraged to start considering our future career. The Career Guidance section which was administered by Cikgu Fatanah was very helpful. It provided us with information regarding options of what we could consider as our career of choice later. I initially wanted to take up aeronautical engineering as I like planes since my younger days. However, I got to know that somebody who I did not fact was going for the same course. I had to consider a different option as I do not want to end up with him in the same course. Then, as fate would have it, I discovered accountancy. I could still remember reading about accountancy information helps in decision making. From then onwards I was determined to study accountancy.

When I was interviewed by MARA officers during the scholarship interview, they indicated to me that I should go to UK to take up law. I was quite talkative during the session and they reckon that would make me a great lawyer. I insisted that I be sent to Australia to study accountancy. I was very grateful to Allah that MARA agreed to sponsor me to pursue the carrier of my choice in Australia and I was sent there even my SPM results were announced.

To be eligible to go to Australia, we had to sit for an English (the Aussies still consider themselves speaking English) proficiency test. Our listening and written skills were tested. We had to listen to statements and information in English (with the Australian accent of course) and answered questions based on what we heard. It was an experience to many of us as some of the topics covered we unheard off before. I managed to convince the Aussies that I deserve a chance tons study in Australia.

The English proficiency test for Australia bound students
This was also the year (if I am not mistaken) when the World Wildlife Funds brought Kamahl, a Malaysian who met his fame in Australia and sang the Elephant Song, to the college. Perhaps that was among the first exposure that we had about the need to us to take care of the environment and its habitants, from ourselves.

When we sat for the SPM exams, the rest of other students were around but they left us half way into the examination season. It was the first of the experience that broke many of our hearts. We were friends (and some did have fellings with each other) and parting ways for the last time was not easy. Many were in tears when they left. We were then left alone to complete the most important mission in our lives, then.

I could recall that this was the year when I studied the most in my entire life. I prefer to go to the class early in the morning when others were still at their dorm. The early morning stint worked very well for me as I could comprehend the subjects without interruption. Even on the weekends, I would do the same thing. When others started to join me, I will go to the dining hall for tea. 

We sat for the SPM exam with the full blessings of our teachers. They certainly gave their best, notwithstanding we were naughty and cunning with our tricks to avoid serious stuff. While many took the examinations seriously it was not that uneventful. I recall Halim Buntal were late for his history paper because he overslept. He studied so hard the night before the exam. We were also eagerly waiting for "spot questions" which were so customary those days. For those who did not have enough preparation, those tips were useful, provided they were true.

After the examination was over, we thought we would be allowed to stay back for a while before returning to the places we came from. However, breaking the tradition again, we were asked to go back immediately. Perhaps, as we were an all-boys batch, leaving us at the college when there was nothing else to do was deemed risky. I know that some of us already went around and did things to the property of the college. That could be one of the reasons that our departure was fast forwarded.

During this final moments, we tried as much as possible to be close to each other. We shared autographs and photos. We took pictures together and some did some planning on what to do next. We did not know whether we would be offered scholarships and where we would be sent to by MARA.

Photo with our librarians
Finally, the end could not be postponed further. It was in the month of December where were left the college for the last time as students. Hugs and cries were the order of the day as those who came from the other states boarded their busses to bring them back home. Even the toughest of us could not pretend that day. Years just came out from our eyes as many acknowledged that the day was going to be the last day that we would be together as a batch. 

I tried to leave the college the latest possible, after most of my friends left. It was an experience that I carry until today. Leaving an institution which folded us from innocent boys to youths who would be given the responsibilities to continue to build the nation was not easy.

We went to the college as strangers, we became brothers. As what is trendy today, we are Best Friends Forever.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

WATTOPERS Turn 50s: Celebrating 38 Years of Brotherhood - Part 8 (Under and overground activities)

We were at the college at the age where we were curious about many things in life, especially when we were not allowed to explore them. Like all schools, smoking was not allowed. I am sure most of the students in our batch did not smoke when we first arrived at the college. However, it did not take a long time before some of us started to pick up the habit, including my dorm mates. To some it was a macho thing to do, amongst other things.

For those who smoke, the most important thing after making sure not to be caught by the wardens was to secure the supply. They would initially get their supply from our seniors who smuggled the cigarettes from outside. The other option was to go out and buy the cigarettes themselves. This was done either during weekends when we were allowed to go to town or by sneaking out through the holes in the fences at the back of our dormitories and procure the supply from nearby shops. After a while, they became suppliers of cigarettes themselves.

The wardens knew about these activities and they did spot checks at the dormitories from time to time. As precautions, the smokers and suppliers hid their stuff at places where they thought would be difficult for the wardens to find the contrabands. The places included the toilets, holes in the mattresses, above the ceilings and other places which I myself could not figured out. Another tactic used was to re-arrange the beds and lockers so that they could have some additional time should they sense spot checks were to be made. Being season wardens, these tricks were not alien to them and in many instances they managed to find the cigarettes. Those who were caught were given warnings or if they were habitual offenders they were canned on the spot and the offences were recorded in their personal files.

The lights at our dormitories were supposed to be off by 11 pm and we were supposed to sleep. However, life did not necessarily stopped. There were many activities that happened beyond the lights off period.

Those who were hungry would proceeded to cook maggie. One of the reasons to do this after hours was because they will be "taxed" less by other dorm mates. Otherwise, the bowl had to be passed around and the actual amount that was left for the owner could be little. One of the tricks that I used was to pass the bowl of maggie around when it was boiling hot. It most instances, the rest would not take it as they could not stand the temperature.

There were students who were more adventurous when they felt hungry at night. One spot to find food was the dining hall. Sometimes, there could be biscuits left in their containers unattended. These boys would bring the containers back to the dormitories and we could happily have our supper. The supply could last for days.

One of the facilities provided to us was our TV room. Lights off meant that the TV has to be switched off and people has to go back to their dorms. This was not strictly followed all the time. Pok Ju could recall that he continued to watch the TV well beyond the lights off time. He and few other friend were comfortable as their rooms were not that far away. Suddenly the wardens appeared and started to cane whoever that were there. The students panicked and went out through the windows. The room was vacated in 5 seconds! Rafi, who was in the room as well ran towards his room by passing through the cloth drying area. Suddenly he realised that his vision was blurred, he dropped his spectacles when his face bumped on the lines. Luckily it was found and he went to his room feeling relieved.

The girls' dormitories were just adjacent to our block. Although fenced, some of the boys thought that slipping into the girls dormitories was exciting and fun. They did not cause any harm to any of the girls but they sneaked into their block to collect souvenirs such as panties, under garments and sleepers which were not that really useful for the boys. I knew a few who wore those staff and were brave enough to show off their collections by wearing the sleepers into the dining hall.

Some took the opportunity to go out and have meal outside the college after lights went off. In fact going out illegally through the most of the time broken fences was not really a big deal. Some even went out to watch movie in Kota Bharu. The warden and security staff tried to stop this by closing the holes whenever they appeared. It became a sort of cat and mouse game until one day one of us got upset and removed one who section of the fence. The gap so big that it could accommodate a car! The wardens gave up for a while and the gap was left unattended for few weeks. Eventually it was closed off and the cat and mouse game continued.

To prevent these sort of activities a number of wardens were required to live at our block. I remember that we had Cikgu Mahmud, our geography teacher, staying in his room adjacent to our dormitory B-6 or more popularly known as Bentoel-6 at that time. By the way Bentoel came from a brand of a cigarette from Indonesia. Some of us smoke that brand, hence that was how our dorm got our name. One memorable incidence was one of us peed on Cikgu Mahmud shoes. He was very upset, rightfully, and shouted madly. We kept quiet and pretended not to know who the culprit was. I am sure I know who did that and the person eventually became a professional. I am not sure whether he has apologised to Cikgu Mahmud or not. 

There were not internet in those days but it did not prevent many of us from doing what many growing up boys would do, to understand more about birds and the bees. One of the popular novel at that time was "Mona Gersang" a sexual explicit Malay novel which was published in the 80's (apparently when I googled this novel, there is an updated version). I was told that this novel was passed around and read by many people. Until today when the name of the novel is mentioned, it would trigger smiles amongst the adult Wattopers.