The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) is the regulating body in India to deal with matters relating to professional or other misconduct of its members by virtue of the powers vested in The Chartered Accountants Act, 1949 and the relevant regulations framed thereunder.
Every member of the ICAI, be in practice or in employment, is governed by the Code of Ethical Conduct. Any member holding Certificate of Practice and carrying out an attest function is also expected to strictly adhere to the Auditing and Assurance Standards (AAS) laid down by the ICAI, failing which he is made accountable through the disciplinary mechanism.
In respect of cases registered up to November 17, 2006, the ICAI, on receiving any information or complaint, could initiate disciplinary action against the concerned member, who has conducted the audit/signed the audit report. In every case, the council of the ICAI is to be involved before the matter is referred to for enquiry by the disciplinary committee and even after the report is received from the committee.
The Council has to provide the member held guilty, an opportunity of being heard twiceonce for considering the report of the disciplinary committee and again to decide on the punishment to be awarded. In case of offences listed in the Second Schedule, i.e. offences which are grave in nature, the council has to refer the matter to the high court with a recommendation on the punishment to be meted out.
In view this complex procedure and time taken to collect evidence, cases like the one pending in the Global Trust Bank matter are still in progress. Thanks to the ministry of corporate affairs and the ICAI, who took proactive steps to do away with such long-drawn processes and bring about changes in law in 2006 by amending the Act, facilitating expeditious conclusion of disciplinary action in respect of cases registered after November 17, 2006.
As per the amended law, the Director of Discipline shall decide on referring a matter to the disciplinary board or to the disciplinary committee, depending on whether the offence is falling under the First or Second Schedule. The Board/Committee is empowered not only to give a finding but also to pronounce the punishment, if the member is found guilty. The punishment can extend to permanent removal from the membership of the ICAI and also a penalty of up to Rs 5 lakh.
The aggrieved member can file an appeal to the Appellate Authority specially constituted for this purpose under the Act, whose order shall be final and conclusive. The revised procedure, which eliminates the role of the council and the high court, would ensure that the disciplinary action to be taken in the Satyam case against the auditors of the company and the officers concerned of the company, who are CAs, can be concluded within a matter of few months.
In the international scenario, there are countries like the US, where the disciplinary action by a regulatory authority is directed against an auditing firm, whereas in India, it is against the partners of the firm/the members who conducted the audit and signed the balance sheet.
ICAI is not empowered to take action against the firm but the government and other regulating authorities can take appropriate action, either suo motto or at the initiative of ICAI, under the respective enactments viz, Companies Act, Indian Penal Code, SEBI Act etc.
Regulatory authorities like C&AG, RBI and SEBI can also black-list any firm from being engaged by the PSUs, banks and listed companies respectively. In matters of professional ethics, timely action by ICAI would help build trust and repose confidence of the public in the profession.