Principal Partner, Yomi, Hussain & Co, Mr. Yomi Hussain, Has Over 25 Years’ Experience In Financial Services.
He Is A Fellow Of The Institute Of Chartered Accountants Of Nigeria (ICAN) As Well As The Chartered Institute Of Taxation Of Nigeria (CITN.) In This Interview With New Telegraph’s Tony Chukwunyem, He Speaks On Topical Financial Issues And Offers His Thoughts On How The Country Can Quickly Get Out Of Recession. Excerpts:
At the recent ICAN conference in Abuja, the Finance Minister urged chartered accountants to help in promoting transparency and good governance in the country. What is your response to critics who argue that accountants should be blamed for lack of transparency and accountability in the system?
For a start, what is the population of accountants in this country? And then what position do they have in the scheme of things? How many accountants do we have at the Senate for instance? How many do we have at the legislature? How many accountants are really calling the shots in the business world? I am talking of ‘world’ within the concept of Nigeria.
So, where you don’t even have the opportunity to even practice what you preach, what do you do? Let me give you one shocking revelation. Accountants – Nigerian accountants generally – have virtually been sidelined in the scheme of things even in the practice of the profession.
The Price WaterHouse Coopers (PWC) and the KPMGs of this world are foreign firms. Nigerians are working there. These firms collect the fees and remit abroad. Nigerians that are chartered accountants and that can claim as much experience and as much expertise, can’t practice.
It is either you work for them or you have just a small firm and you ask for what cannot even pay your salaries. You can imagine, that is from the practice point of view. It will interest you to know that MTN is using PWC South Africa. They have PWC Nigeria. So we have to start by making sure that we give our people opportunities.
Akintola Williams started his practice over 60 years ago and since then they have been producing accountants in this country. Foreign practitioners are just allowed to exploit Nigerians because at the end of the day, they (Nigerians) are the ones that do the job.
But when the chips are down, the profit comes and the bulk of it is remitted to their (foreign practitioners) various companies. If we have a situation where the practice of the profession is restricted to Nigerians only, it won’t make any difference, it is the same people that would do the job. But the money will still be retained within our shores.
And we won’t be talking of all these economic problems we have been facing. On the aspect of integrity, that is a purely personal issue. If you are trained to be a chartered accountant from today till tomorrow, you could still have integrity issues. For instance, lawyers are trained in law but that does not stop them from flouting the law.
Look at the recent happenings with the judges. You may say well it is procedural, at their level they should not be treated like that. But the fact remains that if they are not connected at all; there won’t be the issue of going to their houses.
And you know the interesting thing; lawyers are the only professionals that have an arm of the government that is exclusively reserved for professionals. The judiciary is for lawyers and for the lawyers only. I’m not here to judge but you can imagine the amount of damage a particular arm of the government reserved for a particular profession that is so important that everybody in this country would really on for survival.
If you don’t have courts, you are helpless. If most Nigerians become helpless, it means the country would be hopeless. So accountants should not take the bulk of the blame- it is not because I’m one of them. Just like any other profession, there are bad eggs there.
All you need to do is to engage an accountant like yourself, a bad egg too. They will cook your books, undermine the tax authorities and do all sorts of things. So, it is a purely personal thing. But one thing I know is that accountants are trained to have integrity and I believe that to a large extent, they are trying their best.
This is because apart from the training and the profession, even their Institute does not take kindly to such things; once you are caught, you are gone. They also have the advantage that they can see a problem even before it occurs.
Once you are trying to convert two to four, you know there is a problem there, you can see it. So, if they do it, it is deliberate; it has nothing to do with the profession, it is purely personal weakness.
On the issue of the dominance of the foreign accounting firms, ICAN is an influential body, have some of you taken up this with them?
Well, the thing is that if you are not where policies are taken, where laws are made, it will just be reduced to the conversation you and I are holding now. When Dafinone was there, that was a very strong voice in the Senate and he did a lot of jobs. But, like I said earlier, how many accountants are there? It is when you are there that you can shout?
But when you are just one or two out of about 300, 400 hundred people, and those 300, 400 people cannot even see your point of view, they don’t understand what you are talking about? Do you realise that foreign lawyers are not allowed to practise in this country?
Do you know why? Some years ago, in the 60s, somebody stood up in the House of Assembly and mentioned this thing I’m talking about that we have competent lawyers. The first lawyer, Sapara Williams was in the 19th century and since then we have had practising lawyers, what the hell is a foreigner doing practising law in this country? He moved a motion and it was passed. That is why you don’t have foreign lawyers practising today.
The issue between ICAN and the Association of National Accountants of Nigeria (ANAN) has been resolved. But back then one of the complaints that ANAN had was that ICAN was deliberately ensuring that only a few persons qualified as chartered accountants each year. Is this not responsible for why we don’t seem to have enough chartered accountants?
It is not the number; it is the quality and the professionalism that is important. You can as well churn out as many doctors because of the population of Nigeria. You don’t just churn out professionals. Professionals pass through a process; pass their exams, go through training, get certified.
It is not the honour that is just being doled out. You would pass your exam according to the standard of that institute so that by the time you leave they can beat their chest and say Ok, we have released them to the society, and there is no problem.
Nobody churns anything out; you make standards so that you can be useful in that profession. I have written the exam before; the thing is that they have their standards. I failed some of their exams and I know the reason why I failed.
If you are dedicated to your course of study and you are not distracted by social life and so on,you will eventually pass. But you can’t write like university exam, it can’t work. That is why it looks as if there are restricting numbers.
Once you fall a little bit below the mark, they can’t pass you, it’s as simple and as straightforward as that. And I can assure you that once you have passed and you are released, anywhere you go, you will do well. You can never see any ICAN member as a mediocre.
This is because by the time you go through their mills and they eventually release you, you can’t be a mediocre. But if you just say because of numbers let us release them, the country needs them, business environment needs them, there is no reason why the man selling akara should not have his own accountant and all that. There are grades.
If you want an accounts clerk, somebody that is very good in Mathematics in secondary school can be with a little training. If you want somebody that can audit small business for you, you will get. But when you want a certified chartered man that can head a whole conglomerate, that can manage complicated accounting issues, he has to be from the institute that has a standard way of churning out their members.
The perception exists in some quarters that some banks cook their books and that is why they are able to post profits despite the tough economy. What in your view can be done to effectively tackle this problem?
The CBN has inspectors. If a bank is cooking books they should take it up. Do you why Arthur Andersen is dead today, it is because of the Enron issue. They were cooking books, deceiving the stock market and they were caught. They jailed the CEO and ensured that the firm never had peace.
The complication here is that you can’t be held responsible if I cooked the books before I gave it to you. That is why they are talking of fair view. That means that what I see here is true, that is true according to facts. Who is the author of the facts? You. Fair, in the sense that from what I see in their records and the account they prepared, there is a correlation.
It is only in some special cases that they will want to investigate. But investigation is not audit. Investigation means that we suspect that those published accounts are not true. So forensics will now come in. Auditors don’t investigate, they just audit.
Can you shed some light on the differences in responsibilities of auditors and forensic accountants?
It is like what we have in medicine. There are people who specialise in certain aspects of medicine. In the same way, being a chartered accountant does not make you a forensics practitioner; you still have to go through some training in that area. But basically it is not possible to be a forensics expert without being a chartered accountant. But you can be a chartered accountant without being a forensics person.
The debate over TSA continues. The government said that the policy is necessary to plug leakages, but there are calls in some quarters for it to be reviewed because of its impact on the banking industry. What are your thoughts on the issue?
Do you know the reason why we are where we are today?We don’t play smart and we are not sincere to ourselves. What is TSA? The constitution states very clearly that all monies must go to the Federation account. TSA is another acronym for Federation account.
Do you know the reason why the banks are feeling it? A lot of legitimate fraud has been going on. You will collect money from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) in billions (you a supposed to be a banker to them) on like a Thursday.
By Friday, CBN put in advert for treasury bills -14 per centyou carry the same money to go and sell to the same government; you declare billions, that is not banking. That is round tripping. It is what most of them have been doing over the years and that is why they are making money in a prostrate economy. Why are the banks complaining? It (TSA funds) is not their money.
Even now that they are shouting, it is because they are not ready to work. When were growing up in Lagos, all the money goes to the CBN.Even when you did government contract, it is CBN cheque that you collect; no government money went to the commercial banks.
Even right now, when there is FAAC allocation to all tiers of government, that is not TSA, it will go back to the same banks. The bulk of the money the government realises goes into the FAAC allocation, so it still goes back to the same banking system.
The only thing is that the process is much more controlled now; you can’t take money from the government and use it to buy government bonds again, that is the problem they are facing. That is why they don’t assist Small and Medium Entrepreneurs (SMEs). How much will they gain?
They (the banks) give you at 20 per cent and make 2 and half per cent when they can rake in millions today, from buying treasury bills and in another two or three weeks it has translated into another billions in income for them.
This is income that they did not work for. So, it cannot continue; if the banks want to collapse, let them be. By the time the few ones that will survive, survive, they will do proper banking. They go to you and I, to beg for money, it has started already.
They are now telling people to come and open accounts without depositing any money or deposit only a little. That is the way it is supposed to be there. The banks should give loans to people that are working so that they can develop the economy, that is what is happening all over the world.
People don’t make money from the government in China, in Indonesia and in Malaysia, in America. Instead they make money for the government. Bill Gates and Apple make money that is more than Nigeria’s budget for the year. That is the way it is supposed to be.
The current practice of sharing oil money cannot get us anywhere. You don’t make money from the government, you make money for the government so that the government can take care of you, that is the way it works.
There is an ongoing debate on how Nigeria can quickly get out of recession. Can you offer some suggestions?
The quickest way is to make sure that we kill corruption completely. Loans from the IMF, World Bank can never help us. Let those asking us to take loans from these two institutions tell us any country in the world that have been rescued by these two institutions in the last 20 years.
The IMF and the World Bank are only doing their business in the same world of survival of the fittest. A lawyer was telling me the other day that, ‘you are strong because others are weak.’ When there is no weak person, there won’t be a strong person.
So, they (IMF, World Bank) are okay with us being at this level and they will do everything to make sure that we are at this level so that they will continue to be strong. Indonesia, Malaysia, China, all these Asian countries were in the same boat – they were even worse than us when we got independence.
They decided that they were going to take their destiny in their hands. They did not go to World Bank or IMF. Ok, maybe as a temporary measure we can take a loan but it should be very minimal. All these monies that they are bandying about abroad, by the time they bring the monies back we won’t need the IMF loan again, if actually those monies are there.
They are using the money deliberately. You will discover that they have slowed down in releasing the money; they have been giving excuses-let us see what you want to do with the money. What is their business? If you have been able to recover our stolen funds, release them immediately to us.
We know what to do with our money; it is not you that will dictate to us. We are talking of foreign investment. To me it is an indirect money laundering. All these monies we are talking about over the years are in their financial system. It is what their people now use as foreign investment, sooner or later.
They will take loans over there at decimal interest rates, when they come here they know they will get minimum of 10 -15 per cent, they are okay. That is why they don’t go into real investment with us; they are not interested in industries. They just go to the stock market, buy up everything and wait for it to appreciate a little. They will then sell and repatriate their profits back home.