Wiseman Nkuhlu, non-executive chairman of KPMG SA is determined to rehabilitate it

Wiseman Nkuhlu, broken-hearted at the scandals besetting his field, doubts whether he would choose to be a chartered accountant were he to start over

28 January 2018 - 00:02 By CHRIS BARRON

Wiseman Nkuhlu, who will become chairman of KPMG in March, says he will have untrammelled power and authority to do whatever it takes to fix the disgraced auditing and advisory firm.
This was his condition for taking the job.
"My major concern was that in a position like this you must have all the power and authority to do what is right.
"I wanted to ascertain that there would be no restrictions on my authority and power."
This will include the authority and power to ensure that the company makes full disclosure of its role in state capture.
He says he obtained a guarantee to this effect from KPMG International head Bill Thomas.KPMG has been at the centre of state capture allegations. The fallout over its work for the Guptas and its discredited South African Revenue Service report has led to the loss of a number of big clients and the departure of nine senior executives, including former CEO Trevor Hoole.
Not to mention that it is staring down the barrel of criminal proceedings against it.
The announcement of Nkuhlu's appointment as the new nonexecutive chairman coincided with news that the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission had opened a criminal case with the police against KPMG, consulting firm McKinsey and software giant SAP. This will cause it massive reputational damage in addition to the damage it has already sustained.
The CIPC said it decided to act after an investigation into the contents of the leaked Gupta e-mails that it launched in July.
The criminal complaint is based on a contravention of section 214(1)(c) of the Companies Act, which relates to making false statements, reckless conduct and noncompliance with the act.
KPMG South Africa's alleged criminal activity related to the R23-million it received from SARS for the controversial report it wrote on the tax agency. The CIPC said that in the report, KPMG South Africa, while purporting to express its opinion, in fact gave legal advice and drew legal conclusions.
"This was done despite KPMG SA knowing that providing legal advice and expressing legal opinions was outside the mandate of KPMG SA and outside the professional expertise of those working on the report," said the CIPC.
It said KPMG South Africa knowingly failed to apply its own risk-management and quality controls.
Nkuhlu, who turns 74 on February 5, became South Africa's first black chartered accountant in 1976.
He opened his own practice and taught accounting at the University of Transkei. Among his students was Terence Nombembe, now the CEO of the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants and a former auditor-general.Nkuhlu was president Thabo Mbeki's economic adviser and is now chancellor of the University of Pretoria and chairman of Rothschild until the end of January.
He says if the intention of KPMG is merely to use his stature and reputation to appease stakeholders and stem the loss of clients "they are making a big mistake. I value my reputation, that's all I have. There is no way I can be compromised."
He is determined to ensure full disclosure in the upcoming state capture inquiry and any other investigations, he says.
"My view is that KPMG SA must fully co-operate with the investigators and provide them with all the information they need, and not hold anything back."
In that case he'll have to have a word with his CEO, Nhlamu Dlomu.
The Independent Regulatory Board for Auditors, which is investigating the company's role in Gupta businesses and with SARS, complained that she broke an undertaking by KPMG International to co-operate and provide all necessary information.
Irba said KPMG had provided "incomplete information" and had cited confidentiality as a reason.
Nkuhlu says he made it clear when he accepted the job that he expected KPMG to make full disclosure.
He has asked the CEO to arrange a meeting with the auditors board and accountants institute, which has commissioned an investigation under Advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza SC "so that I can understand at first-hand if there are issues of non-disclosure or refusal to co-operate", he says.
"I've talked to her [Dlomu] about the need to co-operate fully, and she assured me that in her recent meeting with Irba all misunderstandings were cleared up."
He says he insisted that KPMG make full disclosure to him as well so that there are no ugly surprises when he takes over.
Have they done this?
"I believe so. But our conversations are ongoing. Whenever things come to my attention I make inquiries and make sure I get full information.
"But that commitment to fully disclose everything that went wrong in the past and things that are likely to be the subject of investigations, that assurance I have been given."KPMG stands accused of helping to cover up the theft of billions of rands from Randgold & Exploration by the late Brett Kebble and JCI, the company it has audited for 12 years. Have they told him about that?
"There's been a mention of JCI," he says. "Something about JCI."
As JCI's auditor KPMG has played a well-documented role in helping to ensure that the crimes allegedly committed by JCI and its associates were never prosecuted.
"We need to go deep into that," says Nkuhlu.
KPMG took conflict of interest to new heights: it was the auditor to JCI (the thief), Randgold & Exploration (the victim), and the two alleged main recipient companies of the proceeds of the thefts, Western Areas and Investec. It was also the forensic investigator in the Scorpions' investigation of the thefts.
From 2005 to 2016, while KPMG was its auditor, JCI never published any annual financial statements that complied with the Companies Act or the International Financial Reporting Standards regulations.
Nor has KPMG recorded any reportable irregularities, as auditors are obliged to do.
Although KPMG's role in all this has been well documented, Nkuhlu says he doesn't know much about it.
It's surprising he hasn't been better briefed.
"The JCI issue has been flagged to me and I'm going to be briefed on that. I will expect a full report," he says.He says whatever comes out of the Ntsebeza investigation that implicates KPMG, including the Kebble share theft, will have to be dealt with.
He says there must be "consequences" for those implicated in state capture-, Gupta-, SARS- or Kebble-related crimes.
"If it's clear who was implicated then we'll have to take action."
He says he is joining KPMG because he believes its demise would be a great loss to the country.
"It is critical that we have a strong profession in South Africa and that there is competition and choice for clients."
He says he is "really concerned" about the lack of consequences for accounting professionals and firms who fail to uphold the standards of integrity and objectivity enshrined in their code of ethics.
Auditing firms need to ask themselves why they exist, he says.
He agrees that the answer most people would give today is not a flattering one.
But he says the fact is that without strong audit firms South Africa would be in serious trouble.
"The auditing profession is a vital institution," he says.
"It is only with properly audited information that financial markets can function, companies can access financing and governments can make confident policy decisions."
He says the economy would grind to a halt if corporate and public accounts were not independently verified by people "who are qualified, lack bias and show professional scepticism".
Auditors have an obligation to the public, particularly in a transforming country like South Africa.
"Because here, beyond their statutory role, auditors represent a vital line of defence against misrepresentation, deception and fraud."
He says he believes passionately in the role that accountants, auditors and professional advisers should play in making the economy efficient and productive.

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