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President's Address – Fabio Axisa

11 Feb 2020 10:20 | Deleted user
The last few months have been quite eventful and challenging for the entire nation.  During these difficult and unprecedented times, the Institute has expressed its views publicly in a forceful and clear manner.  The Institute plans to continue putting forward its views on the appropriate standards of governance, transparency, distribution of power and independence of control functions that our country’s government should embrace and factually implement.  We will express our views, possibly in tandem with other key stakeholders, directly to those charged with governing our country.   The Institute firmly believes that the reputation and strength of our profession is inextricably linked to the reputation of our marketplace as a financial services centre within international circles.   


We have recently implemented a few actions giving effect to important decisions made which I feel I ought to explain in detail to the members of the Institute. 
The Institute has ceased certain tuition operations within AIM Academy.  As outlined in my previous address, the setting up of this Academy activity had served the marketplace well as the Academy was the first, and for a long period of time the only, learning provider in Malta.  But times have changed and the number of learning providers which are now active in this space has increased.  The Institute should, and will, work and collaborate with all learning providers to ensure that the quality of our profession is safeguarded.  The Institute should act as a catalyst for enhancement of education standards and as a platform for coordinating the efforts of all learning providers to ensure that the resource needs of our members are being effectively addressed.  This implies that the Institute should not be managing its own learning provider. 
By now I am sure you have realised that the Institute has changed (once again) its member relationship management system, impacting its website, front end processes and back end functionality.   One year ago, we went live with one system developed by a third-party provider.  The outcome was disappointing; we feel we have been let down as the output was nowhere close to what we would have liked to achieve.  The output was not a reliable and stable one; your customer experience as members wasn’t great and our experience from a back end operational perspective was problematic.  So, a few weeks ago we switched off this system and went live with an off the shelf solution.  This implementation process was extremely smooth, and I must admit I am impressed by the level of resilience, capabilities and attachment to the Institute that the Institute’s employees and management have demonstrated throughout this implementation process.  I would really like to thank them as this satisfactory outcome would not have been possible without them.  As members of the Institute, you should be proud to have an Institute with reliable, competent, determined and dependable management and employees.
You have entrusted the funds pertaining to the Institute, mainly emanating from your membership fees, into the hands of the current executive team.  As President I always have this responsibility front of mind and so do my fellow Officers and Council members.  This responsibility encourages us to take decisions, which although difficult as the ones I referred to above, are necessary for the long-term sustainability of the Institute. 
There are a significant number of key initiatives which are being handled by the Institute within the domain of each of the five core pillars underlying the MIA’s strategy.  I will refer to some of these below.
1.     MIA as a home to all qualified professional accountants
The Institute is undertaking the last steps in introducing an international affiliate programme.  The objective of this programme will be to enrol and involve within the Institute expatriate professional accountants practising as accountants in Malta, who would have qualified as accountants through a route such as for instance overseas university degrees.    The Institute is also focusing on developing other affiliate programmes and will be implementing a strategic initiative to develop such programmes to widen its membership base by encompassing as many professional accountants practising in Malta as possible.
With respect to a matter related to the supply of professional accountants in our marketplace, a significant number of our members have raised concerns on the inefficiency of the process to register expatriate accountants for work purposes in Malta. The MIA had meetings with Identity Malta and Jobsplus to identify the reasons underlying this issue and to develop a proposed way forward aimed at rendering the process more effective.  In this respect, the MIA will be organising an information session for our members focusing on the single permits online submission process and the revised procedures in this respect.
2.     Elevating quality and raising standards within our profession
Following the publication of the fifth round mutual evaluation report on Malta adopted by the MONEYVAL Committee, in December we organised a high profile event, inviting regulators and bankers, to discuss the findings of the report, particularly those referring to our profession.  I would like to thank the representatives from Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit, Malta Bankers’ Association, Malta Financial Services Authority and specific banks who addressed this event and interacted with our members attending the event.  I had specifically asked these representatives to highlight examples and fact patterns where they believe that members of our profession should act better.  From the contributions during this event it emerged quite clearly that certain members of our profession do not produce high quality work, do not attempt to understand the risks emanating from certain services provided and do not escalate matters with the appropriate authorities when they are meant to.   Whilst I would like to believe that this behaviour is attributable to a minimal minority within our profession, I am sure we all can and should raise the bar and enhance standards.  Of course, during the event our members contributed a lot, did challenge these representatives and highlighted areas where the profession needs more clarity from such institutions.   I will repeat key messages to our members emanating from this event: understand economic rationale, focus on substance, effect rigorous onboarding, apply make sense tests. 
On another important note, we have engaged our legal advisors to assist us with drafting proposed amendments to the Accountancy Profession Act which will define with absolute clarity the list of activities which can only be performed by professional accountants.  The ultimate objective is a comprehensive and fair definition of what constitutes the accountancy profession, which will then allow us to ensure that only professional accountants actually call themselves professional accountants and that specific activities are only carried out by such professional accountants.  This has not been possible in the past, as legislative amendments are deemed necessary to strengthen the framework.    
In this respect, I do encourage you to continue coming forward with complaints on the quality of work executed by members of our profession – providing me or us with all details – and I commit to investigating thoroughly all complaints.  But please ensure that such information can be substantiated and evidenced.
3.     Enhancing the education and qualification process
We need to come up with a strategy addressing the long-term attractiveness of the accountancy profession with a view to ensuring that the best intellectual talent seeks to become part of the profession, designing the profession of the future in the process.  The Institute needs to market and explain our profession more – it is a very interesting and rewarding profession – but this is not necessarily the message we manage to convey all the time.  We will be taking a number of steps in this area as we work closely with the majority of significant employers of professional accountants.  Strategic issues for our profession comprise attracting the right (and sufficient) crop to our profession and enhancing qualification routes for these prospective accountants.
4.     Fostering collegiality and comradeship among accountants 
The Institute organised an event for all Committee members appointed to the Institute’s committees for a 2 year term to discuss the strategic objectives for the term.  I must admit it was an amazing experience to see so many important and well known accountants in one room, all eager to contribute. The Committees are the back bone of the Institute as all key initiatives, technical or otherwise, involve the work of the Committees.  We are extremely grateful to our Committee members; they do all this work for no remuneration for the benefit of the Institute, to contribute to the activities of the Institute. 
Also, the Institute has organised a meeting with the management of the Malta Business Registry (MBR) to discuss the issues that our members have referred to us in the past few weeks. 
5.     Striving to make the Institute’s voice heard, loud and clear
No doubt you will recall that the MFSA has published a Consultation Document entitled Raising the Bar for Company Service Providers proposing a number of significant changes to the manner in which CSPs are authorised and regulated.   As an Institute we have reviewed and assessed these proposals in detail, also by setting up an appropriate consultative forum with wide representation from the membership base and the profession.   We have submitted the Institute’s feedback which centred around acknowledging the stature of professional accountants as warrant holders already regulated by the Accountancy Board.  We have also discussed our feedback in an extensive manner with the Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry.  We continue to interact with the MFSA in respect of this initiative with a view to helping the development of a more robust framework for CSPs in general.  We are also working and collaborating with the MFSA on a number of other matters involving our profession.


               
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