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Johannesburg - South Africa’s forensic auditors are receiving death threats for exposing rampant corruption in the public and private sector.
The suspected hit on top forensic auditor Lawrence Moepi last week is only the “tip of the iceberg” for a profession that is becoming increasingly dangerous, according to Association of Public Accounts secretary-general Hlomani Chauke.
“Nowadays, these kinds of attacks are happening to people who are unravelling corruption and the mismanagement of public and private money,” he said.
“The biggest challenge is that there’s so much mismanagement and corruption happening. It makes auditing companies very vulnerable. Obviously those who are benefiting from these crimes would want to block these auditors so they are not able to do their work.”
Bernard Agulhas, the chief executive of the Independent Regulatory Board for Auditors, said the lives of truly independent auditors were at risk. Many were now “walking a tightrope of fear”.
“We believe our auditors are exposed to similar risks. They have to be independent and report issues that their clients don’t want them to report. The only reason people’s lives are at risk is because they are doing a good job.
“While we are trying to strengthen the independence requirements for auditors as an oversight body, those that are truly independent now have their lives at risk. If the life of an auditor is threatened, it means the independence of auditing is threatened.”
It was clear, he said, that Moepi couldn’t be bought. “What’s so important in our profession is the independence of auditors, that is the cornerstone – otherwise there can be no reliance on their work.
“There’s been a couple of occasions where the auditor picks up a tax evasion to report it to the SA Revenue Service or the JSE, then the client starts threatening the auditor’s life.
“Their lives are definitely at risk and these are the issues we’re picking up.
“Clearly, they want auditors to not report the matter.
“It’s quite bad. We can’t offer physical protection but all we say to our auditors is to work with the enforcement authorities and hopefully those authorities will support them.
“We can just ask auditors to be careful and cautious when they take on new clients.”
Chauke said auditors must be encouraged to expose corruption. “We must encourage auditors to do their wonderful work to fight the scourge at all levels.
“At the municipal level, there’s so much fruitless expenditure – you just have to look at the Auditor-General’s reports.
“The same applies to the private sector. We have to make sure our auditors are protected. And that they will not be scared to do their work.”