Integrity, ethics and honesty

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I'm a Chartered Accountant (SA).  I was trained a long time ago when words like integrity, ethics and honesty in my profession were more than mere words in the dictionary, the rules of professional conduct and the pious blurb on websites.  We meant them and our principals drilled them into us throught our articles of clerkship.

When I became an academic, my colleagues and I made them central to our teaching. From one of my students I learnt the most profound and simple way to apply these principles: when considering whether or not to embark on a proposed course of action, or accept a client, or consider whether a client was acting within the rules, if you even have to ask the question, don't do it.  Dr Iraj Abedian said it perfectly in his recent, very public evisceration of KPMG at a panel discussion at Wits University: it's not just the words of the professional rules, it's the spirit that matters.

Why am I writing about integrity, ethics and honestly today? In a word: KPMG. Maybe they were unlucky to be the first ones caught; Heaven forbid, maybe all the major firms are behaving with this rank disregard for the core principle of our profession. But I hope not.  Whatever the truth, the fact is that KPMG have been caught.  Greed trumped integrity.  And it evidently goes further than their disastrous relationship with the unspeakable Guptas.  It goes further than a cut-and-paste R23 million report on the so-called rogue unit at SARS. A report that has cost a number of fine people their livelihoods and good names.  A report that facilitated the downfall of a fine Minister fo Finance.  A report that has resulted in untold damage to our national reputation, damage that might never be repaired.  Was it the work of a few greedy partners, since defenestrated?  Maybe that is what KPMG would like us ot believe.  But then we see a Carte Blanche report on Redisa and hear some very unpleasant accounts of skulduggery.  And guess who the auditors are, who reported that they found no evidence of reportable irregularities?  Need I type in those four letters again? 

I know some wonderful people at KPMG, who I would bet my last cent are just as horrified as is the rest of South Africa at what has been happening in their names.  But this goes beyond them.  It also goes beyond the patently flawed statement by the Reserve Bank that KPMG dare not be allowed to go down, because only the "Big Four" firms have the expertise to carry out bank audits.  That is rubbish.

KPMG have sullied our profession.  They have tarnished what in a real sense defines who I am.  How dare they?

Having got that off my chest, I will now add some more gentle stuff in the form of memoirs, undistinguished poems and observations about some of the good stuff that still exists around us. 





Solly Kroll of Bloemfontein - a mensch of the finest order

A dear friend of mine died on 23 October 2017.  Solly was one of those special people who are put on earth to provide joy to others.  If I may borrow a Jewish word, Solly was a mensch.

He was a lovely man and was part of my life from the time I was a little pikkie.  We lived next door to the Noicks, who lived next door to the Krolls.  Godfrey, Solly and their friends used to play cricket on the Noicks’ lawn and this little squirt used to insist on joining and hanging with them.  I must have been quite a pain for these big boys, all about eight years older than I was, but they indulged me, let me bowl and bat, and generally were very kind. 

In later years I had the privilege of comprising with Solly the left side of the Old Andreans hockey forward line.  Solly had explosive speed and was a pleasure to play alongside.  He also had a lovely sense of humour and was a delightful teammate.  Apart from the skill he brought to the team, which meant that it was a playing alongside him, I must confess that my abiding memory of him was one Sunday morning when Solly had a bad dose of flu and was feeling awful.  In those days, the mid-60s, we had no idea that physical exertion when you had flu could be fatal.  So dear Solly soldiered on in this match against Ramblers. As it happened, they were beating us that day, which did nothing for Solly’s disposition, and in addition he was being hacked, barged and obstructed by his marker who, being in his mid-30s and a little rotund, had to resort to these questionable ploys.  Eventually they scored again and Eric said to him, OK Solly, now we’ve scored a goal so you can really moan. To which Solly replied, the thing is, Eric, when you get too old and too fat and too slow to do your job properly you have to resort to foul play.  Eric exploded.  Who’s old, who’s fat, who’s slow?  How dare you say that to me? Obviously Solly had touched a nerve and while Eric bleated on in a fury, Solly ran off chuckling.  It was the only part of the match he enjoyed that day, but enjoy it he did.

Solly used to regale us with the part he played in the last victory our school, St Andrew’s ever had against Grey College at ugby.  Grey had a huge wing called, if I remember, Kaspaas Serfontein, who was a Jonah Lomu forerunner.  That season Grey’s game plan was to get the ball to Kaspaas, who would inevitably brush aside the opposition and score.  Solly’s job was to mark him and by game time he’d been so brainwashed by Mr Koen and Mr Furte, our two coaches, that his whole life was reduced to Kaspaas and how to stop him.  Early in the match the Grey fly half chipped the ball behind the St Andrew’s backline players for Kaspaas to run on to, pick up and score.  As Solly put it, his whole life passed before his eyes as Kaspaas thundered past in pursuit of the ball.  In desperation, Solly took off after him and tackled him from behind, long before they’d reached the ball.  In those days there were no yellow or red cards, which Solly assuredly would have received today.  So unnerved was Kaspaas by this shocking surprise that he couldn’t do a thing for the rest of the match and St Andrew’s went on to I think a 3-0 victory.  The match had taken place at Springbok Park, the local venue for major matches, situated across the road from St Andrew’s. According to Solly he had to return to the school after the match surrounded by a phalanx of his schoolmates shielding him from a mob of irate Grey boys.

Truly, Solly was one of those people who are a privilege to have known.  I will miss him but I have these wonderful memories.  As, no doubt, his family, friends and surviving schoolmates do as well.


Lore of Nutrition : disgraceful persecution of Tim Noakes

I've just finished reading Lore of Nutrition, the book by Professor Tim Noakes and Marika Sboros about the conduct of the Health Professionals Council of South Africa, his colleagues in the Medical Faculty at the University of Cape Town, a number of medical specialists, the Association for Dietetics in South Africa, and numerous individuals.  It is difficult to decide which of these was the worst and most deserving of the adjectives that kept entering my mind: vile, envious, egregious, greedy, prejudiced, disloyal, manipulative are but a few.

As an academic, although nowhere remotely near the eminence of Noakes, who is in a class of his own, I was physically ill to read how his colleagues shafted him and publicly held him out to dry. This conduct was utterly disgraceful.  Ad hominem attacks are the refuge of people who fear to debate principles.

Noakes' discussion and justification for his Damascene moment in realising and having the courage to admit that he had been wrong about diet for most of his professional career is a sometimes heavy read for a lay person, but well worthwhile.  Whether or not his conclusions are correct, based as they on extensive research, is not for me to say.  What I do say, and I shout this from the rooftops, is that when a colleague presents a revolutionary view, you sit down with him or her and engage in reasoned debate.  You may agree with the findings, or not, but you discuss the matter rationally and on the basis of the evidence on both sides.

People lied, suppressed information, ganged up, scorned and crucified a scientist, most of them not scientifically worthy to carry his books.

The HPCSA deserves particular opprobrium for the way it departed from its mandate and did everything in its power to achieve its predetermined decision.  It says much for the redoubtable Advocate Joan Adams, chair of the hearing, that justice triumphed in the end.

My scorn for the petty, mean minded, devious members of ADSA is boundless.  Fortunately, and perhaps this is partly what was driving them, they will be long forgotten, and whatever books some of them may have written have disappeared even from church bazaars, while people are still referring to Noakes' books.

Marika Sboros' description of the hearing itself reads like a thriller.  Brilliantly written, she displays the ability and clarity of the seasoned journalist that she is.

As I write this, Noakes is enduring an appeal against the decision as the pygmies try again.  I'm not sure of the grounds on which the appeal is being heard, but time will tell.

What I am sure of is that Lore of Nutrition is essential reading.