The Malta Institute of Accountants has resolved to clamp down on members who, through direct or indirect involvement in cases of alleged improper behaviour, bring the profession into disrepute, according to its president.

Fabio Axisa said those members involved in alleged wrongdoing will be summoned as the institute launches investigations into whether they upheld the profession’s core values and practices.

Axisa confirmed that the matter was discussed at length during the institute’s recent virtual annual general meeting, where it was agreed that the perceived quality of the profession had to be addressed.

“Detailed investigations will be carried out with a view of instituting disciplinary proceedings wherever necessary,” he told Times of Malta.

“Disciplinary action will be taken against any member who, based on the institute’s proceedings, will be deemed to have brought our profession into disrepute.

“We will not waste time and we will not be influenced by who these members are. We will not desist until we do the right thing incisively for the benefit of the profession,” he added.

The accountancy sector was thrown into disrepute in recent years with the alleged wrongdoing of accountants Brian Tonna and Karl Cini, Nexia BT’s partners, who were arrested last month in connection with a money-laundering investigation.

Following their arrest, the Accountancy Board – the profession’s regulator – had suspended their warrants.

Tonna’s companies were slapped with an asset freeze as part of a police probe into whether he paid a €100,000 kickback on passport sales to the former chief of staff at the Office of the Prime Minister, Keith Schembri.

We will not waste time and we will not be influenced by who these members are

The board said that, following the conclusion of Magistrate Natasha Galea’s magisterial inquiry “and related developments”, it appointed a disciplinary committee to look into charges brought against Tonna and Cini, Nexia BT and its subsidiaries BTI Management Limited and Nexia BT Advisory Services Limited.

Axisa said the Malta Institute of Accountants had taken appropriate action by launching an investigation into Tonna’s and Cini’s behaviour but they opted to resign before any disciplinary proceedings were taken against them.

Without referring to them by name, Axisa said the individuals had refused to collaborate with the institute, invoking legal advice that, by collaborating, they would be prejudicing their case.

“The institute is not the regulator and our disciplinary actions can only focus on conduct in relation to membership and cannot extend to actions in respect of warrants or practising certificates,” Axisa said.

“We will follow up our disciplinary proceedings with the Accountancy Board to ensure that appropriate and determined actions are pursued by the profession’s regulator as required,” he added, noting that he felt the profession’s regulatory infrastructure was not sufficiently robust.

“We have made, and will continue to make, representations to the government on the institute’s firm views on key matters such as the composition of the Accountancy Board, the mechanism through which the members of the board are appointed and implications on perceived independence of mind, the extent of operational human resources it had, the funding model deployed to finance the regulator, the structure of and functions within the regulator, the manner in which disciplinary actions are considered and executed and the overall quality of the legislation regulating the board’s affairs,” he said.

“We are insisting that these matters are urgently addressed through formal proposals submitted to the prime minister and members of the cabinet.”

He added: “The fact that we have not engaged in outright open public criticism of the Accountancy Board and its members does not imply that the institute is satisfied with the current regulatory landscape or that the institute is doing little to drive the required change.”

Axisa, who was confirmed president during the AGM, said the institute was working on 30 projects, including proposed amendments to the Accountancy Profession Act so that only warranted accountants will be able to call themselves as such.

Institute members also voted for seven new members for a two-year term.

The council is now also made up of David Delicata (vice president), Noel Mizzi (secretary), Franz Wirth (treasurer), Anna-belle Zammit Pace, Christopher Balzan, Ivan Grixti, Jonathan Dingli, Shawn Falzon, Christian Gravina, Etienne Borg Cardona, Lucienne Pace Ross, Mark Bugeja, and William Spiteri Bailey.

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