Former chief operations officer of Bosasa Angelo Agrizzi Photo: African News Agency (ANA)
Addressing a public sector forum this week, South Africa’s auditing bodies confided that they intended to act “aggressively” to salvage their image.

Good luck. In the past few years there’s been a great deal of damage, all self-inflicted by the reckless, negligent, greedy, incompetent and dishonest members of the bodies that are supposed to “self-regulate” the profession.

Self-regulation actually means allowing your members as much licence as possible while shielding them from the consequences of their actions.

In accountancy, the main cosy clubs are the SA Institute of Chartered Accountants (Saica) and the SA Institute of Professional Accountants (Saipa), as well as separate offshoots for management accountants and internal auditors.

There is also the statutory Independent Regulatory Board for Auditors (Irba), which has proved to be neither independent of the profession nor able to regulate anything that matters.

The roll of dishonour, just in the past few years, is startling.

For starters, there’s the R2billion collapse of African Bank, overseen by Deloitte & Touche, and the Steinhoff collapse, where Deloitte didn’t notice irregularities that led to $14bn (R189bn) - 97% of market value - being lost.

There’s what the National Prosecuting Authority described as the “collusion” of McKinsey & Company in the theft of R1.6bn from Eskom. A forensic investigation recommending criminal prosecutions found that McKinsey had billed Transnet R3.1bn for doing very little except facilitate a crooked tender for 1064 locomotives that don’t work.

There’s Bosasa, whose appropriately corpulent bagman, Angelo Agrizzi, has been spilling the beans on how the company allegedly laundered R5m a month in cash bribes to pay off politicians, prosecutors and government officials. The auditors, D’Arcy-Herrman, didn’t notice anything amiss.

And then there’s KPMG, whose international problems - such as allegations that they held a beneficial stake in bankruptcy proceedings that they orchestrated - pale into insignificance when compared to the carnage they wrought in South Africa.

The forensic investigation into the R1.89bn fraud that sank VBS Mutual Bank recommended that KPMG should be held financially liable.

But these were mere tasting dishes. KPMG’s gourmet meal was the banquet with the Gupta clan, where the main dish was intended to be the entire South African state. The amount looted from public coffers has been estimated at around R50bn.

And the penalties for the auditors and accountants involved in this cesspool of the theft and fraud? McKinsey did a deal with the Asset Seizure Unit and paid back R99.5m to Eskom, while KPMG generously donated R47m of its Gupta fees to civil society organisations and charities.

Saica and the Irba have been “investigating” the African Bank collapse since 2014 and the disciplinary charges against two Deloitte partners are still straggling along. The Steinhoff collapse is also under “investigation”, with a grand total of 19 days’ hearings last year, and another 44 scheduled for this year, only starting in July.

It’s the same with investigating KPMG. At the speed at which Saica and Irba are moving, the world’s glaciers will have melted before any “professional” involved will be found guilty and slapped on the wrist.

In 2017 KPMG announced an independent investigation into its role in the Gupta and Sars “rogue unit” matters and said there would be “full and frank disclosure as quickly as possible”. We’re still waiting.

But fear not. Last year Irba handed out R2m in fines - half of them suspended - to 21 individual auditors who had contravened its professional standards and the law. Four repeat offenders were named, the names of the other 17 were kept secret.

It makes sense, when “self-regulating”. Let’s spare the blushes of these pillars of the community. After all, they need to be able to find new businesses to rape and pillage.

And, lest we forget, it’s not only the accountants. It’s also the banks who inexplicably never noticed the tell-tale cash flows and the lawyers who were conveniently blind and deaf in the inner councils of crookery.

* William Saunderson-Meyer is a columnist with the Independent On Saturday. He is @TheJaundicedEye on Twitter.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.