By Dipo Olowookere
Following a series of high-profile scandals across the world, many accountants and accounting firms have come under heavy scrutiny by regulating bodies.
In this regard, one issue of immediate concern to practitioners is the need to regain public trust and an expert in the accounting business, Mr Michael Armstrong, has submitted that if properly utilised, technology can be used as a vital tool to help rebuild trust in the profession.
Speaking at the recently held 48th Annual Accountants’ Conference themed Securing Our Shared Future: A Collective Responsibility, Mr Armstrong said the accounting profession was set to witness exciting times ahead, in a changing world.
The accounting expert, who is the Regional Director of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia, stated that, “Our profession is currently under a great deal of scrutiny with the media reporting corporate failures, criticism of accountants and auditors, and sanctions being imposed on what can sometimes feel like a daily basis. All Chartered Accountants are under scrutiny.”
Mr Armstrong, during his presentation titled Accounting Firms of the Future: Challenges and Opportunities at the event in Abuja, noted that, “As defined by our Royal Charter, the fundamental function of bodies like ICAEW and ICAN are the protection of public interest.
“Due to the loss of public confidence, the key challenge facing the profession and our most immediate concern is the need to rebuild trust.”
Mr Armstrong noted that the accountancy profession needed to recover its original purpose of assuring investors and the public of the truth, rebuilding trust and ensuring the sustainability of the profession.
The ICAEW director called on accounting professionals to act immediately. “In fact, our (ICAEW) CEO, Michael Izza, describes this as a “watershed moment” – a wake-up call for business leaders, regulators and auditors. As a profession, we have to be prepared to think and act differently in the future. If we don’t address this now, one wonders if we will still have a profession in 20 years’ time”, he said.
For Mr Armstrong, who was also a partner at KPMG, one way to improve the credibility of financial reporting is to boost audit quality. He noted that changes, driven by a range of factors, but most significantly technology, will transform all aspects of business and society in the coming years, and reshape the accountancy profession across Africa, Europe, the Middle East and the rest of the world.
“Over the years, our profession has moved from the use of spread-sheets, to computers and other more advanced technological devices.
“While the scale of the change today may appear more dramatic, this is not new territory for the profession which has a long history of adapting to changing regulatory and technological environments. It may seem more pressing and transformational now, but is the arrival of Artificial Intelligence (AI) or Big Data more significant than the arrival of computers into finance departments or the appearance of the spread sheet? Our profession has always been very adaptable in the past so there’s no reason to think it can’t adapt this time,” he added.
Mr Armstrong also emphasised the need for collaboration amongst Chartered Accountants more than ever before; and looks forward to working and collaborating with ICAN following the MoU signed earlier in the year.
In his presentation, Mr Armstrong noted that technology is the driving force behind change in the accountancy profession, as it presents countless opportunities for the profession to deliver more value to businesses through new and enhanced services. He also explained that accountants can save time – for themselves and their clients – from lower value tasks to focus on more complex and advisory work.
Other workshops held at the four-day conference were: ‘SMPS & SMES: Revving The Economy To Action’; ‘Securing Our Shared Future; Cyber Security Challenges’ and ‘Contemporary Issues in Digital Economy’.
The conference ended with a Gala Night and was attended by Chartered Accountants from across Nigeria.
Why Nigeria Rejected OECD Minimum Corporate Tax Agreement—FIRS
By Modupe Gbadeyanka
The Executive Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Mr Muhammad Nami, on Monday explained why Nigeria did not endorse the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Minimum Corporate Tax Agreement.
In a statement issued by his Special Assistant on Media and Communication, Johannes Oluwatobi Wojuola, the tax agency boss stated that signing the deal will not be in the interest of the nation.
The OECD Minimum Corporate Tax Agreement was designed to allow multinational enterprises (MNEs) to have a fair payment of taxes in different countries.
But Mr Nami said if Nigeria endorses it, it will lose out on potential revenue from the digital economy as the agreement is unfair to the nation and the developing countries in general.
“There are serious concerns on how the rules would compound the issues in our tax system. For instance, to be able to tax any digital sale or any multinational enterprise (MNEs), that company or enterprise must have an annual global turnover of €20 billion and global profitability of 10 per cent. That is a concern. This is because most MNEs that operate in our country do not meet such criteria and we would not be able to tax them,” he said.
“Secondly, the €20 billion global annual turnover in question is not just for one accounting year, but it is that the enterprise must make €20 billion revenue and 10 per cent profitability on average for four consecutive years, otherwise that enterprise will never pay tax in our country, but in the country where the enterprise comes from, or its country of residence,” he was further quoted as saying in the statement.
The FIRS head noted that for Nigeria to subject a Multinational Enterprise to tax under the rule, the entity must have generated at least €1 million turnover from Nigeria within a year, stressing that this is an unfair position, especially to domestic companies which, with a minimum of above N25 million (that is about €57,000) turnover, are subject to companies income tax in Nigeria.
He added that this rule will take off so many multinational enterprises from the scope of those that are currently paying taxes to Nigeria. In other words, even the MNEs that are currently paying taxes in Nigeria would cease to pay taxes to us because of this rule.
On the issue of dispute resolutions under the Two-Pillar Solution, the FIRS Executive Chairman explained that the rules were such that in the event of a dispute between Nigeria and a Multinational Enterprise, Nigeria would be subject to an international arbitration panel as against Nigeria’s own justice system.
“It would be subject to international arbitration and not Nigeria’s judicial system and laws—even where the income is directly related to a Nigerian member of an MNE group, which is ordinarily subject to tax in Nigeria on its worldwide income and subject to the laws of Nigeria.
“We are concerned about getting a fair deal from such a process. More so, such a dispute resolution process with a Multinational Enterprise, in an international arbitration panel outside the country, would lead to heavy expenses on legal services, travelling and other incidental costs. Nigeria would spend more; even beyond the tax yield from such cases,” he said.
On the issue of Nigeria losing significant revenue if it fails to sign in to the OECD Inclusive Framework rules for the taxation of the digital economy, Mr Nami noted that this was not a problem as the country had already put forward four ongoing solutions to the challenge of taxation of the digital economy.
“One, we have made it a point of practice to annually amend our tax laws to reflect the current global realities, it was courtesy of these reviews that we developed the Significant Economic Presence (SEP) rule, through the Finance Act of 2019 and 2020. The SEP rules set a threshold for multinational enterprises, without a physical presence in Nigeria, for registration and payment of taxes to the country.
“Two, we have deployed technology in order for us to bring digital transactions to the tax net. Coupled with the Significant Economic Presence rule, we have started seeing the impact of the technology we have deployed; companies like Twitter, Facebook, Netflix, and LinkedIn, among others who have no physical presence in Nigeria and that were hitherto not paying taxes, have now registered for tax purposes and are paying taxes accordingly. A positive to this is that we surpassed our target in the year 2021, despite the challenge posed to the global economy, including our own economy, by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The third initiative is the Data-4-Tax Initiative, a blockchain technology which FIRS is jointly developing with the Internal Revenue Service of the 36 states and that of the FCT, under the auspices of the Joint Tax Board. With this project, we are confident that we are going to have a seamless view and access to all economic activities of individuals and corporate bodies in Nigeria going forward, including money spent on digital commerce.
“The fourth is that we have set up a specialised office, the Non-Resident Persons Tax Office, to manage the taxation of non-resident persons and cross-border transactions, including all tax treaty operational issues and the income derived from Nigeria by non-resident individuals and companies,” he disclosed.
Lagos Joins Eight Other Cities to Improve Air Quality
By Adedapo Adesanya
Lagos State has signed the C40 Clean Air Cities Declaration alongside Abidjan, Accra, Addis Ababa, Dakar, Ekurhuleni, Freetown, Johannesburg, Nairobi, and Tshwane to improve air quality.
Governor Babajide Sanwu-Olu in a statement revealed that he was committed to improving air quality for its citizens, adding that it is the responsibility of every citizen to maintain it because together it can be achieved.
He explained that he was happy to join the mayors and governors of nine other African cities in making an unprecedented, ambitious commitment to improve air quality with the signing of the C40 Clean Air Cities Declaration.
“The need to breathe clean air is more important than the licence to pollute it.
“Lagos has committed to improving air quality and I appeal to the responsibility of every citizen because together we can,” he said.
The statement also revealed that by signing the C40 Clean Air Cities Declaration, the governor of Lagos State recognises that breathing clean air is a human right, and commits to working toward safer air quality.
Mr Sadiq Khan, the Chair of C40 Cities and Mayor of London, in his remarks, said that: “With COP27 being held in Africa later this year, I am delighted to welcome 10 new African signatories to the C40 Clean Air Cities Declaration.
“As Chair, I am determined to do more to support cities in the global south, who are on the frontline facing the worst consequences of climate change.”
Mr Khan also said he was focussing C40’s resources to help cities around the world accelerate their efforts to tackle climate emergencies, reduce toxic air pollution, and address inequalities.
He lamented that the world was at a crossroads, adding that efforts must be made to allow cities around the world to become greener, fairer, and more prosperous for all.
On his part, Mr Michael Bloomberg, United Nations Special Envoy for Climate Ambition and Solutions, President of the C40 Board and 108th Mayor of New York City, in his remarks noted that many of the world’s fastest-growing cities are in Africa.
“We believe that the ten mayors can help show cities everywhere how to protect public health, fight climate change, and expand economic opportunity all at the same time.
Mr Bloomberg also added that cities play a vital role in the fight against climate change.
“This new commitment is an important step to help build momentum and highlight Africa’s leadership in the lead-up to COP27 in Egypt later this year,” Bloomberg said.
The statement read in part: “Under the Clean Air Cities Declaration, Lagos is improving public transport as a key component of Lago’s strategy to reduce air pollution.
“The city will expand the bus rapid transit (BRT) network, installing new terminal hubs and lines allowing for additional users and trips.”
“A low-emission bus pilot, replacement of older vehicles by 2025, and improved fuel quality standards will reduce public transport pollution.”
“Improved walking and cycling infrastructure by 2025 will increase active mobility, further reducing demand for private transport.”
“Other actions include rehabilitating three illegal waste dumping sites, increasing the uptake of LPG for cooking, and promoting solar photovoltaic systems on buildings.”
It read: “Air pollution has become the second largest cause of death on the African continent, due in part to rapid urbanisation and industrialisation.
“Approximately 1.1 million deaths per year have been linked to air pollution across Africa, according to a Global Burden of Disease Study.”
“Approximately 59 million people across the ten African cities stand to benefit from cleaner air and improved health through commitments that are estimated to prevent as many as 10,000,”
“Early deaths linked to air pollution exposure, as well as more than 300,000 hospitalisations, resulted in US$ 9.4 billion in annual savings from averted deaths and hospitalisations.
“If Lagos reduces its PM2.5 concentration to 35 μg/m3 (World Health Organisation (WHO) Interim Target 3) by 2030, it could prevent 2,800 deaths and 155,000 hospitalisations per year.”
“This would save $2.3 billion annually (from avoided deaths and hospitalisations).”
According to it, if Lagos reduces its NO2 concentration to 10ppb (WHO Air Quality Guideline), it will prevent 2,300 asthma incidences per year.
“This will save U.S.$ 200 million annually in related healthcare costs.
“Swift, unprecedented and collaborative action is needed to address the sources of pollution that are harming our health and heating our planet,” the statement read
SERAP Wants INEC to Publish Financial Details of Political Parties
By Adedapo Adesanya
In its latest move, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has urged the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to publish the reports on the accounts and balance sheets of every political party submitted to the National Assembly since 2015.
The group called on Mr Mahmood Yakubu, the Chairman of the body, to make available the request in a letter dated May 21, 2022, signed by SERAP deputy director, Mr Kolawole Oluwadare.
SERAP urged him to “urgently examine the books and records of financial transactions of political parties, and to make public the outcome of any such examination.”
It also urged him to “provide details of the guidelines, and steps that INEC is taking to prevent vote-buying in the forthcoming elections in Ekiti and Osun states and 2023 general elections, and to prosecute vote buyers and other electoral offenders.”
Recently, the All Progressives Congress (APC) collected N100 million for its presidential form while the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) collected N40 million for the same purpose for the 2023 elections.
The organisation also alleged that some leading political parties and politicians also spend between N250 to N14,000 to buy votes.
The organisation said: “Nigerians have the right to know about the accounts and financial transactions of their political parties, especially the major parties with a strong possibility to assume government in the future.”
According to SERAP, “transparency and accountability of political parties is important to achieve greater transparency in public life, curb the influence of money in politics, promote a level playing field, and remove the risks to the independence of political actors and would-be public office holders.”
SERAP also said, “It is both immoral and illegal to pay citizens to vote for a particular political party or candidate. Unpunished cases of vote buying and related electoral offences would continue to undermine good governance, the rule of law, moral values, as well as hinder citizens’ participation in elections.”
The letter, read in part: “When a political candidate decides to buy the support of the people rather than contest fairly for their votes, there are possibilities that such candidate will show a disregard for democratic rules and a disposition to adopt illegal means becomes inevitable.
“Vote buying and related electoral offences encourage poor governance and weaken citizens’ capacity to hold their elected officials accountable for their actions.
“SERAP urges you to urgently take measures and to collaborate with appropriate anti-corruption agencies to ensure the effective prosecution of any outstanding cases of vote buying and related electoral offences allegedly committed in the context of the 2019 general elections.
“We would be grateful if the recommended measures are taken within 14 days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then, SERAP shall consider appropriate legal actions to compel INEC to comply with our request in the public interest.
“The lack of transparency and accountability in political finance is seriously undermining the legitimacy and credibility of the democratic and electoral processes, and invariably contributing to denying the citizens the right to effective participation in their own government.
“The failure of political parties to comply with transparency and accountability frameworks would undermine citizens’ trust in their political parties and lack of trust will inevitably destroy confidence in the system and decrease citizens’ interest and participation in the democratic process.
“Elections are only one part of the democratic process, and a fair and effective electoral system must be founded in an adequate democratic infrastructure and responsibility of political leaders.
“According to our information, several political parties have for many years failed to submit their annual financial statements to INEC. Many political parties have failed to submit election expenses reports, and to disclose material contributions received from individuals and corporate bodies to the Commission.
“The Commission has also been apparently unable or unwilling to monitor, examine and publish these financial statements.”
“Also, some leading political parties, politicians and other political actors reportedly paid between N250 to N14,000 to buy votes. For many years, allegations of vote buying (the payment of cash or gifts in exchange for voting) and related electoral offences have characterised elections and party primaries in the country.
“SERAP is concerned that despite several provisions of the Electoral Act (as amended), anti-corruption laws, and the country’s international anti-corruption obligations, suspected perpetrators of vote buying and related electoral offences frequently escape justice for their crimes.
“However, INEC has consistently failed to exercise its powers and to provide the leadership that would promote collaboration with appropriate anti-corruption agencies to facilitate and ensure thorough, transparent and effective investigation of cases, and the arrest and prosecution of suspected perpetrators.
“Section 86(1) of the Electoral Act 2022 requires every political party to submit to INEC a detailed annual statement of assets and liabilities and analysis of its sources of funds and other assets and statement of its expenditure. Failure to comply is an offence under Section 86(2), which is punishable by imprisonment for a term of six months or a fine of N1,000,000 or both.
“Under Section 86(3)(4) INEC has the power to examine the records and audited accounts kept by any political party, and to publish the report on such examinations and audit in two national newspapers and Commission’s website within 30 days of receipt of the results.
“Section 226 (1) of the Electoral Act 2022 also requires INEC to prepare and submit a report every year to the National Assembly on the accounts and balance sheet of every political party. Under Section 225(5), INEC has the power to give directions to political parties regarding their books or records of financial transactions.
“The Nigerian Constitution and international standards guarantee and protect the right of all qualified citizens to vote, in state as well as in general elections.
“The right to vote freely for the political party and candidate of one’s choice is of the essence of a democratic society, and any restrictions on that right strike at the heart of representative government.
“The effective exercise of the right of qualified Nigerians to have a voice in the election of those who make and enforce the laws under which, as good citizens, they live can contribute to the enjoyment of other human rights, including to corruption-free public services, freedom of expression and digital and data rights.
“Public confidence in voting systems serves as an indispensable feature of a full and healthy democracy.
“Persistent failure to arrest and prosecute suspected perpetrators of vote buying and related electoral offences may ultimately undermine public confidence, the integrity of the country’s elections, and lead to widespread disaffection with the electoral process.”
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