Apex court says it’s time to regulate multinational accounting firms

K. R. Srivats | | Updated on: Dec 06, 2021

Asks Centre to consider separate law, body for oversight of the audit profession

An oversight mechanism to regulate Multinational Accounting Firms (MAFs) on the touchstone of ethics is finally on the cards.

The Supreme Court has asked the Centre to set up a three-member expert panel to decide whether and to what extent the current legal framework needs revisit so as to appropriately discipline and regulate MAFs for violation of code of ethics and reciprocity provisions of the Chartered Accountants Act.

In a 75-page landmark judgement, the apex court Bench of Justices AK Goel and UU Lalit also ruled that the expert committee may consider the need for an appropriate legislation for the oversight of the profession of auditors.

The law could be patterned on the Sarbanes-Oxley Act 2002 and the Dodd Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act 2010 in the US or any other appropriate mechanism, the Bench suggested disposing of two petitions — an appeal against a Karnataka High Court order and a writ petition filed by a NGO, Centre for Public Interest Litigation.

The Bench also said accounting firms could not be left to self regulate themselves, and the issue of a separate oversight body for auditing work and updating the existing legal framework appear to be necessary.

The apex court felt it appears necessary to realise that the auditing business is required to be separated from the consultancy business.

The Bench also wants the government-appointed expert panel to examine the question whether on account of conflict of interest of auditors with consultants, the auditors’ profession may need an exclusive oversight body.

The Centre has been tasked to set up the expert committee within two months. The report of the committee may be submitted three months thereafter, the Supreme Court has said.

The Bench also faulted the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India for not taking appropriate action to uphold the law although its committee of experts had in July 2011 concluded that MAFs were involved in violating ethics and law. “The ICAI ought to constitute an expert panel to update its enquiry,” the court has said.

Petitioners’ case

The main point was that the principle of reciprocity under Section 29 of the CA Act, Section 25 prohibiting corporates from chartered accountancy practice, and the code of ethics prohibiting advertisement and fee sharing are being flouted by MAFs.

The MAFs also violate FDI policy in the fields of accounting, auditing, book-keeping, taxation and legal services, they submitted.

It was contended that MAFs are illegally operating in India with the help of Indian CA firms and providing accounting, auditing, book-keeping and taxation services.

It was being argued that no effective steps were being taken to enforce the law although the MAFs are operating in India in violation of law in a clandestine manner.

Published on February 25, 2018
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