Ya esa suptesu Jagriti! Immortal words are from the Kathopanishad which is the motto of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI), the premier accounting body of the country. The meaning is that person who is awake among those who sleep. Increasingly, as the functioning of the ICAI comes under greater public scrutiny nowadays, it is found — more often than not — that as an apex regulatory body in the country the ICAI is unable to meet the high expectations from Government, its members and public at large. Surely, something was wrong somewhere.
The lack of understanding of a global economy and the imperial demands of an emerging India is the fundamental reason as to why ICAI is consistently caught with its pants down. Yet ICAI as a matter of routine welcomes every single move of the Modi government without any application of mind. Naturally, it is not seen as an intellectual body but as a cheerleader in the traditional saffron sari.
Recently an aggressive member CA Sunil Maggo of Delhi has virtually stunned the whole profession by cleaning dirty linen in public. This has happened recently at an annual function of the ICAI at Delhi. It was an embarrassment for the dignitaries as it happened during the presence of two Cabinet Ministers & a State Minister of Finance. The timing was wrong. The place was wrong but no one has an answer to his saying. In a nutshell, he exposed us all and added fuel to constantly attaining the malign of our image. Time to time, ICAI have tried its best to save the image of the profession by issuing the clarifications and press releases but ultimately failed to carry the image of the profession left out by their processors.
There are a number of issues directly linked to maligning the image of Chartered accountants which started from Satyam , Reddys, Lodhas and we are being found mediatory in almost all the cases of bribes caught red-handed by the enforcement agencies. However, an attempt is being made here through this article to look for the last six incidents maligning the profession drastically.
1. CBDT ISSUED MALICIOUS PRESS RELEASE
Recently ICAI relieved all its members by releasing a press release in hard words against the CBDT and alleged that CBDT has “maligned the reputation of Chartered Accountants in the eyes of public and has thus lowered the image and credentials of CA profession”.
The ICAI has issued a stern note that Nagesh Shastry, the alleged culprit, is not a Chartered Accountant. Instead, he is a tax consultant who was masquerading as a Chartered Accountant and misleading gullible members of the public. It has also expressed concern that the Income-tax department did not bother to verify the credentials of the alleged culprit before issuing a statement to the media and publicly announced that that it has busted a tax refund scam master-minded by a Chartered Accountant.
The statement issued by the department didn’t carry the name or profession of culprit but mention CA more than 8 times in its press release. Though the department was in possession of all the information in their possession still used CA to make it eye catchier and ICAI objections were truly justified as the titles of the news across the country carried the word, chartered accountant. The ICAI has suggested that in such sensitive cases, the income-tax department and publications should verify the facts with the Institute before issuing any statement wherein the involvement of a Chartered Accountant is suspected.
The text of the press release issued by the ICAI on 5th February 2018 was as under :
The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) has come across a news-item titled ‘I-T busts B’luru CA’s tax refund racket with clients from top tech cos’ published in media dated January 26, 2018
It was stated in the news item that “The Income Tax Department on Thursday busted a racket in which tax refunds running into crores were fraudulently claimed by employees of around 50 companies in Bengaluru, including Infosys, IBM, Biocon and Vodafone. I-T officials of Karnataka and Goa found the employees had availed the services of a Chartered Accountant in Bengaluru, who filed false returns for them and secured refunds amounting to Rs.18 crore. The CA, the employees told investigators, took a 10% cut on the refund.”
On-going through the aforesaid news-item, ICAI, being the regulator of the profession of Chartered Accountants has taken up the matter with concerned authorities. The representatives of ICAI immediately had a meeting with Director General of Income Tax (Investigation), Bengaluru seeking details in the aforesaid matter & requested Income Tax Department to share information about the accused i.e. Nagesh Shastry.
The Institute verified its records and found that Nagesh Shastry is not a Chartered Accountant as his name does not appear in the Register of members maintained by the ICAI. There are various fraudulent cases being reported wherein individuals/ Tax Consultants are falsely claiming to be Chartered Accountants and during preliminary investigations only it comes to the fore that the accused are not Chartered Accountants but are either Tax Practitioners/Accountants/ Commerce Graduates.
In view of the above, it is a matter of concern for ICAI that in the aforesaid matter neither Income tax department verified the credentials of the person in question with ICAI before issuing a statement to the media nor the Publication cross-checked the validity of the statement with ICAI before publishing the story.
The news which has appeared in a section of media certainly has maligned the reputation of Chartered Accountants in the eyes of public and has thus lowered the image and credentials of CA profession.
The Institute has already taken up the matter with the concerned authorities of the Income Tax Department (Investigation), Bengaluru and has pointed out that such statement should not be considered to be issued to media before verifying the facts with ICAI. It would also be requested that in future if any such case comes for their investigation wherein there is an alleged involvement of an individual claiming to be a Chartered Accountant, the matter may be referred to ICAI for cross verifying the credentials from its records.
The ICAI takes a strong exception to the contents of the news item published in the newspaper which is incorrect and misleading in so far as the reference to a `Chartered Accountant’ was made. In such sensitive cases, the concerned Department and Publications ought to have verified the facts with the Institute before issuing any statement wherein the involvement of a Chartered Accountant is suspected.
2. ERRORS IN CA NOV 2017 FINAL RESULTS
The institute has issued the results of the final examination of November 2017 in January and send it to the various branches declaring approximately 24000 pass outs. However, the centralised system of the ICAI was showing the 19000 pass outs from the exams. ICAI maintained its 19000 version and blamed it on sharing of internal communication. The matter has already been admitted by courts and litigation shall raise serious questions on the functioning of the ICAI. ICAI did accept that they maintain the results keeping in view of many consideration of geographically balance, market conditions but as the matter has been exposed publically, this issue has certainly maligned the image of the regulator and shall have to face hard questions. The powers and authorisations of the president with the results are not mentioned anyway in the rule book so certainly a rough time for the profession.
The clarification issued by the ICAI over results was as under:
The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) has clarified that there is no error In the results of CA Final examination held in November 2017 declared yesterday (17.01.2018).
As per the procedure, the CA Final results including marks scored by the candidates in individual subjects were hosted on the ICAI websites (www.icai.nic.in; www.caresults.icai.org; www.icaiexam.icai.org) which is accessible to every student. The students are required to enter their roll number and student registration number / PIN to access their result. The Institute also clarified that the results posted on the websites mentioned above are error free and correct. The Institute has also clarified that the student can access and print the mark sheets from these websites though formal mark sheets are sent separately.
ICAI Examination Department also sends a list of candidates who passed either group/ both groups without marks of the individual candidates to its branches and the regional councils for their internal use. It is brought to notice that some mismatches had occurred in the file attached to the internal communication to the branches. The Department, realizing this mismatch, had immediately intimated the correct printing formats to branches and regional councils.
It was brought to our notice that this internal communication has been inadvertently shared outside which has created certain confusion in the student In view of this, it is felt necessary to issue this clarification.
3. ICAI KEPT MUM OVER MODI JI REMARKS ON CA DAY
On of 1st July 2017 CA day marked with the presence of Prime Minister Speech in Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium. The said meeting was coordinated by a council member of Delhi close to Government gallery. He is influential in a sense that first, he got the nomination to central council of the ICSI and then fought the election of ICAI central council and won.
Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi in his address declared CA signatures much powerful than the signatures of a prime minister mentioning “Your signature is more powerful than PM’s and government also believes the accounts signed by you: Further asserted that CAs must give the right advice to their clients to ensure black money and corruption are kept in check. He questioned the lethargic disciplinary proceedings against the members and also shown his anger alleging CA support to cooked books of accounts and their working during demonetisation. PM Modi asks ICAI why action has been taken against only 25 of them for irregularities, while over 1,400 cases are pending for many years. And issued a warning that Govt committed to more tough action against firms helping in hiding black money”
The news reports generated from the PM address across the country accuse chartered accountants of frauds, forging the documents, exchange agents during demonetisation etc. The said function was marked by holism and unrest as at-large members of the profession and even the media persons, who had come to cover the function, were stranded as they could not enter the venue. The video clips surfaced on social media showing members and office bearers of regional council sitting on dharna. Coincidently, 1st July was also a day of start of new era of GST, so many channels and reports emerged that CAs have protested the implementation of GST though it was simply a mismanagement of programme as chairs were occupied by the students of the chartered accountancy called from the nearby coaching institutes and personnel from the industry . That’s why the hall was marked by full-voiced clapping when the Prime Minister questioned the integrity of Chartered Accountants. He applauded the role of Big 4 firms through such firms are operating illegally here and under constant facing banning of their activities by authorities.
ICAI grossly failed to come up with a clarification on the figures quoted by the prime minister and his nonfactual contents. The media has taken PM remarks in a way that we are just a bunch of accountants trying to sabotage the Indian economy but that we’re resolutely not on their side as we act in most professional manner. I am sure the prime minister did not mean to malign an entire profession in making an appealing point.
4. ICAI ISSUED CONTROVERSIAL DIKTAT ON DEMO
The “advisory”, to ask all its members “to be more cautious and careful while advising their clients, sharing/writing their views on any platform regarding demonetisation and work towards the best interest of the nation”.
This diktat, issued in the backdrop of alleged misconduct of some chartered accountants through sting operations on the former office-bearers of the regional council widely broadcasted by national channels for purportedly advising their clients on ways to convert their black money post demonetisation, cautioned all members “to watch the national interest as the uppermost while advising their clients.”
After severe criticism from various quarters and facing severe flak, ICAI has withdrawn controversial diktat that was seen as a purported gag order warning its members against making public any “negative personal views” regarding the government’s demonetisation move “in a remotely possible way”. The new advisory issued by ICAI said that the members “are specifically advised to render professional services within framework of the applicable laws and ICAI Code of Conduct, upholding and elevating the high standards enjoyed by the profession and keeping overall national interests in mind with true spirit of the principle of ICAI — Partner in Nation Building”.
Trailing the cases during demonetisation, In one case, ICAI sought information from the Principal Commissioner of the Income Tax Department at Pune. In another case, the details were solicited from the Income Tax Department in Ahmedabad, while the ICAI sought information from a private television channel, News18 India, in a third case, M Devaraja Reddy, the then President of ICAI had said in the letter.
“It is a matter of grave concern and distress to our profession when certain news reports or video clippings have come in the public eye depicting certain CAs indulging in such acts of illegality, which go against the efforts of the government in eradicating corruption and black money from business and commercial transactions,” Mr Reddy had stated in the sharp advisory to ICAI members.
During the demonetisation, an audio clip also surfaced on social media widely circulated among the masses in the name of CA M DEVARAJA REDDY, the then president of ICAI. ICAI immediately swung into action and clarified that a purported audio clip in the name of its President M Devaraja Reddy, containing views on economic matters such as demonetisation and tax reforms, is “fake”. It was further clarified that the said audio clip is a fake one and the voice therein is not of CA M Devaraja Reddy. It is emphatically stated that the same is put in circulation to malign the image of the institute. The views expressed in the said audio clip do not represent the views of Reddy or the Council of ICAI,”
Finally, ICAI found its four members CAs guilty of encouraging money laundering during the demonetisation drive thus levied a penalty that raises questions on the seriousness of its action. The ICAI’s maximum penalty includes a suspension for three months from its membership and a fine of Rs1 lakh each on the erring CAs.
In a press release, ICAI says, “The Board of Discipline (BOD) of ICAI has completed its inquiry in four out of five cases and found the respective Chartered Accountants guilty of having brought disrepute to the profession, thereby violating the applicable provisions of the Chartered Accountants Act. After concluding inquiries in these cases, the BOD of ICAI has imposed the maximum penalty upon all four erring Chartered Accountants envisaged under the Chartered Accountants Act.”
The release did not mention the quantum of the penalty or punishment, though, in February 2017, the Union Government had shared the names of 34 CAs with ICAI for investigation after the professionals were allegedly found to be involved in money laundering through shell companies during the demonetisation drive. At that time, the government had said it found 559 beneficiaries had laundered Rs3, 900 crores with help from these 34 CAs.
5. BASELESS STRICTURES OF THE ITAT
The Hon’ble Mumbai Bench of ITAT in the case of Shri Vijay V Meghani vs. DCIT on 20.08.2014 had passed strictures against the entire CA profession for alleged “fall in standards” arising from the alleged misdeeds by one CA.
The Bench severely lamented on the standards of the entire profession by stating as under;
In that case, also, the ICAI had taken a stern stance and got the ITAT to withdraw/dilute the strictures on 15 of September 2014.The Council unanimously felt that the comments made by the Bench were not warranted, as a general comment was made in respect of the standards of the entire profession merely by relying on the opinion given by one of the members. Hence, the Council having due regard to the judicial system in the Country including ITAT has decided to take up the instant matter with the appropriate authorities for expunging the aforesaid remarks against the profession.
Later, the Bombay High Court also expressed disfavour with the strictures passed by the ITAT against the CA profession in the following words:
“Thus, we find that the Tribunal, out of sheer desperation and frustration and agitated by the fact that the Revenue is not opposing the request for condonation of delay, turned its attention towards the assessee’s Chartered Accountant. It is unfortunate that thereafter paragraphs after paragraphs are devoted to how a Chartered Accountant ought to conduct himself and while advising litigants in tax matters. How a Chartered Accountant, as a professional, should be aware that legal proceedings should be filed in time and if there are adverse orders, how proper advice should be given. It is very unfortunate that the Tribunal has, apart from seeking to advise professionals, blamed not only individual Chartered Accountants but equally the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India. It is unfortunate that Courts of law or Tribunals, which are the last fact finding authorities, in this case, adopted this course.”
6. CAG FOR SIGNING EXCESSIVE TAX REPORTS
As per the information provided by DGIT (Systems) of ITD (August 2014), 65,898 CAs submitted at least one TAR for AY 2013-14. Out of total 65,898 records of CAs, 81.13 percent of CAs adhered to the limit prescribed by ICAI. Remaining 18.87 percent of CAs (12,435 CAs) submitted more than 45 TARs. The excess number of TARs ranged from 46 to 2471. 0.02 % of members found to sign more than 1000 tax audits. The said report also carried the names and membership numbers of the defaulters. Though this scene has emerged in 2013-14, however, ICAI is having the information since 2010 that bogus Tax audit reports are being signed by professionals who are not even Chartered, Accountants. The membership numbers quoted by such returns were never issued by ICAI and as many as hundreds of tax audits were signed in the name of dead one. So far no action has been reported. However when the publication from C & AG blasted chartered accountants for negligence under its “Appreciation of Third Party (Chartered Accountant) Certification in Assessment Proceedings of the Department of Revenue”. Their report exposes shocking carelessness and blunders by us. The report also points out that there are 616 cases where CAs have committed mistakes in the allowance of exemption or deductions, charging of tax on book profit under Section 115JB, adoption of arm’s length price and reporting on cash payments exceeding Rs 20,000 per day. The CAG report gives several illustrations of such carelessness and also provides the names and membership numbers of the CAs who have conducted the audit. The report also laments that no action u/s 288 of the Act has been taken by the department against the erring CAs.
However, the information available with DGIT (Systems) has not been shared by ITD to ICAI nor did ICAI approach ever to ITD to furnish such information. In view of lack of monitoring of a number of tax audit assignments either by ITD or ICAI, the purpose of maintaining the quality of tax audit have suffered. As the work of tax audit assignments is voluminous work, issuing more than prescribed TARs is fraught to suffer in quality.
The letter 27th December 2014 issued by the secretary of ICAI over C&AG REPORT is as follows:
Attention has been drawn to certain issues raised on the certification work done by the members of the profession in the report of Comptroller and Auditor General of India (C&AG) entitled ‘Appreciation of Third Party (Chartered Accountant) Reporting in Assessment proceedings’ (Report No. 32 of 2014).
The issues raised in the said report were deliberated in the recent meeting of the Council held from 23rd to 25th December 2014. The Council was of the view that:
The ICAI should focus on the present ICAI challenges & don’t neglect the tarnishing of the image of Chartered Accountant. A timeless question—and it has perhaps never been timelier. Members of our Institute are confused, frightened and angry. Many are feeling deeply betrayed by the failures of the institution and individuals they trusted to protect and guide their lives and livelihoods.
Too much is said and done to malign CA image. CA brothers, it is time to rise to occasion. It is said “when things get tough, tough gets going”. Let us work together not to allow others to degrade us. We need to strictly follow code of conduct and professional ethics. We should strengthen the hands of ICAI to protect us, guide us and to reconstruct the clean image of the profession.
(About the Author– Author was Member of ICAI- Capacity Building Committee 2010-11 and ICAI- Committee For Direct Taxes 2011-12 and can be reached at email firstname.lastname@example.org or on phone Phone: 0 1 2 1-2 6 6 1 9 4 6. Cell: 9 8 3 7 5 1 5 4 3 2 having office at 1 1 5, Chappel Street, Meerut Cantt, UP, INDIA)