An open letter to the newly elected President of ICAI
Respected Mr President,
Firstly, congratulations on assuming the highest office of the Institute. I hope you would feel honoured of having been given an opportunity to serve the CA fraternity while your partners at office are busy reeling in the additional client workload on your behalf which you have been getting for your firm from the time you got elected as a Central Council Member. You would now be signing several more MOUs for the ICAI at exotic locations which benefit just a few members but we are not complaining about it because talk about priorities and you just have 1 year in office.
And now since we are in the election year, I am just waiting to be wished on every event and every festival. And ofcourse, those parties and free flowing alcohol from the candidates. We all know where the money comes from and where the money goes. Last I checked we were a professional institute. Now I realize, it’s just another government body run by members with vested interests. The elected members who had no time to address member queries, respond to emails or answer calls over the last 2 years will suddenly give us so much attention this year.
The Institute decided to increase the membership fees from Rs 800 to Rs 1500 when you were the Vice President of the Institute. And apparently that was the first notification rolled out by your office last year without having a need to justify a 100% hike in atleast an email communication to members. You felt it was right to increase the contribution of the family members to the family pool without having the need to justify where and how the family expenditure has gone up. This is inspite of the fact that ICAI has reported Rs 1139.41 crores as Reserves and Surplus for the year ended 31 March 2017 and current assets to the tune of Rs 903.71 crores. Something doesn’t seem right here.
The fee hike is nominal for an individual and we are happy to contribute but we need to know WHY.
Probably because we needed some extra money to sponsor the large scale event of inviting the Honourable Prime Minister of India to our ICAI Day function where the same members who funded the event were barred from entering the premises. But you know what was more shocking than seeing fellow members locked outside the venue, the speech that was delivered inside. Personally, I am a fan of Mr Prime Minister and the work he has been doing but as a member of ICAI I felt insulted with his speech, but we members kept quiet because the Central Council Members on the dais who represent us chose to be quiet and you still owe us an explanation for the same. Mr Prime Minister can talk about work ethics and accountability of the ICAI which I duly appreciate and respect, but it is extremely disprespectful to call the entire fraternity as black, especially coming from a politician. Maybe he should walk the talk with the government in terms of ethics and accountability.
The ICAI has stayed quiet on various occasions which has been taking a beating on the value and respect we command in the society. Any financial scam and you would definitely have a member involved and all we do is debar the member from practicing for a given period of time which has simply stopped acting as a deterrent; as members have no idea of what actually conspired behind closed door disciplinary committee meetings. We know what has happened with the Satyam case (where SEBI slapped a ban on the Firm and not ICAI) and Kingfisher group. We shall shortly add Nirav Modi to this group and so many more that I don’t want to demean the profession more in this letter. I am surprised that as a CA, your blood never boils after all of this. We cannot control the members integrity but we can take strong corrective actions which has been missing.
And the direct impact has been on students pursuing CA. Number of students pursuing CA as a career has gone down from 2.77 lakhs in 2009-10 to 2.18 lakhs in 2016-17. Ofcourse, the changing pattern of exams, fluctuating results, increase in the cost of pursuing the course together have reduced the interest in CA as a career option and numbers speak for themselves. And then the delayed results or declaration of incorrect results just add a little more oil to the fire. Students have widely circulated certified copies of their papers which raise a question mark on the entire examination pattern of ICAI. And ofcourse, you don’t need to be told about the working hours an article intern goes through and the stipend they receive. Let’s not wear blinkers to these basics at hand. Do not give me the argument that it is a learning process. We don’t want CA students to take rash decisions like what we see engineer aspirants doing today.
But ICAI continues to take strict actions against the students for any lapses while leaving the member scot free. In case a student undertakes dummy articleship, he is barred from pursuing the course but what action do we take against the member is never spoken about. Isn’t it the member who permitted the same? And another love hate relationship ICAI has is with coaching institutes. From a past President who was up in arms against all coaching institute has now officially opened a sprawling campus for aspiring CA’s. Talk about hypocrisy at its best.
Apart from the regular registration fees and exam fees, other ways to extract money from students have been the GMCS and ITT and Orientation Programs. Having gone through the courses personally, it has added no value to me. The idea of these courses was to compete with a MBA. But let’s not forget that MBA’s undertake the skill set learning over the course of 1 to 2 years which we try to inculcate within 100 hours each. MBA students live that life for 2 years and we should do it as a part of articleship training and these could be top up activities held as an add on and not as mandatory courses. Again an MBA leads to specialization in a particular field say Marketing or Finance or HR. The CA course teaches us financial reporting and audit and law and costing and direct tax and indirect tax – all at the same time with equal weightage. At the end of the day, the university and the placement cell helps make the careers of MBA pass outs, we all know how badly our placement drives are organized and the strong alumni community that MBA institutions boast of is simply nonexistent in the CA world.
We still don’t know the skill sets of the faculties of these courses as even the staff is not aware on how the faculties are recruited and batches allotted. Talk about transparency within the Institute.
It would be relevant to note that the balance of the CABF students fund as on 31 March 2017 was Rs 12.6 crores. And we have no clue what is this spent on?
Newly qualified CA’s find it difficult to start their own practice thanks to the cartel of older CA firms and they simply get sucked into the system. The fees that we charge clients for regular compliance is peanuts and nothing has been done to stem that. But we’ll form a committee for Young members and out some CCM in charge of it, allocate some funds with no accountability.
The struggle of a CA student is real. But the sad part is it doesn’t even end by becoming a member. And I don’t blame you alone Sir. I am equally responsible for electing the wrong people to represent our profession and I vouch to help people make the right choice this 2018 (No, I do not intend to contest at present). Instead of electing professionals with high caliber and standing in the economic circle, we elect the one with the most lavish party.
Sir, you represent more than 2.7 lakhs professionals in the country and similar number of CA aspirants and each of us have a major contribution and influence in keeping the health of the economy in a steady fashion either through our tax or audit services or through any other professional or social contribution and you are our voices to the Government of India. Mr President, you have a chance to leave an impact on the future of ICAI by undoing the errors the past committees have made and listening to the grievances of the member and students. The way the GOI is moving ahead with the National Financial Reporting Authority (NFRA), ICAI will only remain as an examination body and all the authorities and responsibilities shall be handed over to another government institution. It is upto you whether you want to put a hard stop on all these irregularities or simply enjoy the coveted position at the expense of all us stakeholders. We as a profession are on the slide of diminishing value unless some stern actions are taken to stop the fall.
CA Hardik Shah
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