Interview with George Cassola – Balancing the History Books
The Institute of Accountants just launched an engaging publication tracing its history back to 1965. We sat down with author George Cassola to discover more about this fascinating work.
What drove you to write this unusual historical narrative?
The Institute of Accountants wanted to commemorate its 50th anniversary with a publication telling its story and I could not resist the invitation to undertake this work. Firstly, as a member of the Institute I lived through many of the events detailed in the book. Secondly, I have a strong interest in language and literature and have, over the years, written and published several pieces locally and overseas.
How long did it take you to complete it?
I started the project in 2015 and finished it in 2017. Even though it was a relatively short time, I wanted to complete the book as close to the anniversary as possible and I am glad I stuck to my own deadline.
Is the book only for accountants?
The history of the accountancy is enmeshed with other political and national events, in fact, it was necessary to include a summary of local and international affairs that had an impact on the business of the Institute. The story of the MIA enlightens not only accountants, but anyone who wants to know more about our country’s history. Some sections in the book may interest accountants more, but the larger part of the book is of can be enjoyed by readers who want to know about what went on behind the scenes, particularly in the sphere of local finance.
Why do you describe the 1965 merger ‘historic’?
In the early sixties the profession in Malta was still in its early development and with accountants divided in two separate associations did not help its consolidation. Although the two organisations were not competitors, neither did they cooperate. The awkwardness of the situation became evident when the Commercial Partnerships Ordinance was enacted in 1962. The merger is historic because it created a national body that could perform as one undivided force in its sphere of activity. The Institute became the sole representative of the profession, giving it both consistency and strength.
How would you describe the Institute at 50?
In 50 years of development, the Institute has grown steadily in size, stature and influence. Its membership has increased from 65 to over 3,300. It is recognised by law as representative of the profession. It is permanently seated on the Accountancy Board and drives many of the decisions that are taken in that forum. It is a player in the major European and international accountancy federations. It has a robust code of ethics and a policy of continuing professional education that no other profession has matched. All this took years to be achieved but today the Institute can say that it is in a good state.
The profession is shaped by social events, but does accountancy also shape history?
Business and finance do not usually form part of the historical narrative, except when they find themselves at the centre of political events. But the profession has an impact on a nation’s history – for example, the development of IASs and IFRSs, especially IAS39 and IFRS9, drastically transformed the dealings in international finance and banking. When an event makes the headlines, it is likely because it is negative such as Enron crash in 2001 and Worldcom soon after, or the fall of Lehmann Brothers in 2008. So, yes, although under-reported in mainstream media, accountancy does influence history.
Is the MIA’s role in landmark national legislation under-recognised?
For many years the Institute preferred to keep a low profile and, though it made major contributions towards legal provisions and administrative practice in tax, finance, banking and other areas, its efforts have not been sufficiently recognised. In particular, the Institute’s role in the continuing education of its professionals is much larger than is generally appreciated.
What was the most surprising thing that you discovered in your research?
The commitment of members to the Institute. Initially the Institute was led by a Council of twelve members and a few committees mostly made up of the same twelve people. Eventually the number of committees started to grow, meaning hundreds of professionals contributing towards the Institute. Considering the pressures of accountancy, it is amazing that so many offer their time.
The Institute went through its own rough patches (such as the dispute over MDPs in 1998 or the SMPAC turmoil in 2002) – what is it that keeps the MIA strong and relevant?
Yes, the Institute often had to struggle to push its views. Besides the ones you mention there were the tax issues of the 1970s, the question of government audit tenders, the EU membership decision and others. But the Institute always carried a sense of unity. Imagine if there were still two institutes as before the merger: authorities would have found a divided profession unable to promote common interests. The Institute remains relevant because it keeps abreast with developments and discusses issues beyond its internal structures.
What do you consider the top achievements of the MIA?
There are several but becoming a founder member of IFAC and joining FEE represent major milestones, as do the joint examination scheme and the launch of GAPSE. But the greatest achievement must be keeping a united profession and representing its members with integrity. With its growth into unprecented numbers, the Institute must find that task ever more daunting.
Mr George Casola, Accomplished accountant, visiting lecturer at the University of Malta and published author
The Malta Institute of Accountants 1965 – 2015 is available for sale exclusively at the Institute. Order your copy at email@example.com or call us on 2258 1900 for further info.